We have all been at the mercy of a three-year-old’s endless questions regarding “why”, which is the start of showing that a child is beginning to question the world around them. But when does a child begin to apply logical thinking so that an adult can expect to reason with them fairly?

Cognitive milestones to look out for

There are obviously a lot of milestones that parents and teachers look out for at many different ages in children to figure out how their development is going.

  • From early on we celebrate milestones with babies; when they can hold their heads up on their own, when they laugh, begin to walk and eventually start to speak.
  • This continues with new words being learned, and then eventually stringing those words together into a sentence that may or may not be coherent.
  • Around two or three, a child will start to understand basic commands (such as bedtime or dinner) and being able to respond (99% of the time with a scream of “no”)
  • Once a child becomes curious with the endless “why” questions, they are showing the adult they are trying to understand the world but they still do not grasp what this information means yet.
  • At around four or five years old, kids begin to become more logical in their thinking, although kid logic is often heavily confused and
    hilarious to adults, they still cannot understand the world adequately enough to explain right from wrong.
  • Then, around the ages of six or seven years old, a child’s brain will develop into what has been referred to as “the age of reason”, where moral, emotional and rational thought is present in a child’s thinking.
  • It is at this point reasoning with a child should yield some results as they can begin to appreciate that other people have their own feelings and that there is a difference between right and wrong.

When can you tell if children can be reasoned with?

  • When kids begin to start separating reality and fantasy it is a good indicator that this is happening.
  • Look out for imaginary friends suddenly not appearing at the kitchen table or less and less interest in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.
  • Suddenly questioning imaginary and make-believe characters is due to an increased ability to begin to solve problems and identify certain patterns around them as well as applying logical thought to questions and answers they receive.
  • Children will also begin to show empathy, which can also manifest in some light lying from children.
  • Noticing when children lose that running “no filter” truth telling is a very important cognitive step. This is showing that they can lie to hide a truth they feel would upset the person if they were honest.
  • They may at this stage start lying to protect themselves when they know they’ve done something bad and may be punished for it.
  • It is also worth noting that kids at this stage cannot understand nuances or any subtleties; so if they are not allowed to do something, for instance, have a cookie after 7pm, they will not understand if an older child or a different child in another family are allowed because it is against the rules which were set for them.

So, should you reason with a child?

Realistically, the question should not be “should”, but “when should”. Children have very important cognitive development timelines that indicate at what age reason can be used.

  • Trying to reason with a child of six or seven is likely going to be very frustrating for an adult, as the child will have a very limited understanding of right and wrong and can often lie to cover themselves when they are potentially in trouble or do not want to upset someone.
  • It is not, however, a bad idea to begin to have more reasoned talks with your children to help them become more logical in their thinking.
  • By using both physical and verbal cues, or a physical thing such as a toy to explain your point, this can help a child as they can associate with seeing and touching an object rather than understanding a logical point.

By attempting to stimulate this cognitive thinking early on, children can certainly benefit from a parent’s attempt at reasoning with them. This can also help them begin to understand nuances and the shades of grey they may encounter in late conversations.