They no longer are content with fairy-tale answers. They want logical answers. You find your 8-year-old playing with a bottle of vinegar.
You remember that you should not make negative, statements like “No! Don’t take that”. Instead, you show an alternative and divert his attention. Then you quietly take the bottle away.
You are just about to breathe the sigh of relief when he comes asking for the bottle. “It was just here! Where is it now?” He searches. Asks questions.
“Oh it must be somewhere…”, you say trying to be vague.
“But I had kept it on the carpet, near the papers and crayons. I had just gone out to see Alex’s pup. No one came in our house.”
The little detective is working in the right direction – pointing the needle to you. His logic tells him a bottle is inanimate and cannot move on its own. There is a chance of rolling, so he has searched under the sofa.
He tells you his logic. You are frustrated thinking of the consequences that if vinegar spills, it will create a mess. Finally you tell him, “You won’t get the bottle. You will spill vinegar and spoil the carpet.”
“No I won’t! Give it to me.”
“Sorry, when mom said no, it’s a no!” You resort to autocracy.
The frowns on two foreheads last for more than two hours. Your cajoling and efforts to make things normal are rebuked. Mother thinks that he will spill. Child thinks that mother is against him drawing pictures. She does not let him do what he wants.
I have Logic!
The ages between 7 and 11 are called the Concrete operational stage in the Piagetian language – named after the Swiss development psychologist and philosopher who posited numerous theories about the nature and development of human intelligence.
The biggest change in this age is development of logical thinking. It is visible through actions which follow a logical thought process. Of course, the logic cannot match that of an adult simply because it develops with experience.
The methods used for younger children do not work here. Your child is now trying to apply logic and wants answers as logical reasoning. So, best way to deal with this age is to provide acceptable logic and provide supporting evidences.
“Why do you need that bottle?”
“I want to make a card for grandma and grandpa. I like the picture on the bottle.”
You have a close look at the Bragg’s bottle and can’t stop smiling! Okay, if you think this scene looks made up for this article, let’s get to the point!
Ask the child why he has taken the bottle. The answers will be varying and amusing. But most certainly, the child does not intend to take the bottle ‘to create a mess’. This speculation has arisen out of your own experience.
So, reason with him.
“Why do you need the vinegar bottle?”
“To draw a picture.”
“Can you do with any other bottle?”
“Why not this one?”
“Because it has vinegar in it. It may spill and it’s difficult to clean the mess.”
Please note that here you are addressing the bottle and spillage as the problem unlike in the previous case, where the child was regarded as the problem.
You are not saying, “YOU will spill the vinegar!”
Therefore, if the answer is – “Ok, I can take another empty bottle” – your problem is solved. If he wants that particular bottle, you can discuss ahead.
Ask him, “How will you not let it spill?”
You are not only asking for a solution but challenging the ability to apply logic. Now it’s no more only your problem, but his, too! Then while he is thinking, suggest solutions like “may be some other bottle will do”, or “Let’s ensure that the cap is tight enough.”
You may get answers like, “If I keep it straight and not shake, it will not spill,” – logic applied that if you shake the bottle or let the mouth of the bottle tilt to more than a certain angle, the liquid will spill.
Great! He has now taken the responsibility. Let him grow responsible.
After knowing the real reason why he needs it, you might want to help in his venture further. The whole exercise is frown-free! You must know that he does not intend to spill.
You must make him realize that you don’t want to stop him from drawing pictures! Let him know that you support him in doing good things.
Observations are the raw materials for creativity and logical reasoning. Sometimes parental commands like “you must not” and “because I told you so” plug the channels of observation. The child is observing since she was born. It’s the duty of the adult guardian to nurture it further simply by appreciating it.
For frequent travelers, cloud patterns seen from the window become routine. But do you remember how excited you felt when you saw it for the first time? For those who do not remember their first flight as they have been flying since they were infants, recall something like looking at the angel falls or northern lights for the first time. A child is looking at everything new with the same curiosity. Even if it is not new for you, think from the child’s angle. Share the same excitement. Any experience for her about which her parent is excited too, serves as great motivation and she goes ahead doing so.
Apart from development of logical abilities, children of this age have a good grasp of conservation of mass, volume, length and number or quantity. Pouring milk in a broader container to make the milk-hater drink milk does not work. But explaining how superheroes get power out of milk may trigger the inductive logic and make your job easier!
You will find that the school curriculum introduces the basic concepts of measurements to students of this age.
Inductive reasoning means drawing inference from an observation or experience in order to make a generalization. For example, the teacher praised my work today (one experience) -she is fond of me (generalization).
“Every time I take the bus 11E, I get late for my tennis lesson.”
“But whenever I travelled by the bus 14A, I reached in time. If both the buses are leaving at the same time, the route of 11E is longer!”
This is an example of deductive logic, for which you have made many observations and finally come to one conclusion. Children aged 7 to 11 find this logic a little difficult as it requires mental reversibility. Therefore, research activities are given to the older students.
Hero worship and Role Play
The role play continues in this age. It takes the form of hero worship like Superman or Iron Man. It is the age when the child is informed about lives of famous scientists like Edison or historical figures like Nelson Mandela. The extracurricular activities in the school include fancy dress in which children are encouraged to get into the character. A parent should be careful that the child must choose a positive character and make them speak inspirational dialogues. The child imbibes more than you know.
Children are exposed to scary stories from their peers and more so by older children. Such stories create deep fear in their minds. Sometimes they do not tell parents. The fear then starts showing through their behavior. Then they are scared to go in a dark room, or are scared when left alone in a room.
Sometimes even parents do the mistake of scaring the child so that he listens: “If you don’t eat food, the dragon will come and take you away” or “if you trouble animals, God will punish you”.
You might argue that it is for the child’s own good. Though the intentions are correct, the method is not appropriate as it causes fear in the child’s mind. You are the first hero in your child’s life.
Whatever you say, they tend to believe completely. If you confirm the existence of dragons, the fear of the non- existent entity is planted in the child’s brain. When the mind has fear in the background, the child may see images of dragon in clouds and shadows.
Consider the case of God punishing. Yes, not troubling animals is a good cause. But, in my opinion, projecting God as someone to be afraid of is not right. Again as I had said earlier, the same message can be given in positive sentences.
“I was thinking we could play out in the Sun, but looks like you will take longer to finish your food.” Now the ball is in her court! Finish food and you get to play! Or, “Good people treat animals well’. “God loves children who treat animals with love and care”, are some positive alternatives.
The best way is not to let any fear settle in a young mind. Take the child to a room and prove that all objects and layout of those objects do not change even when the lights are switched off. Prove it with logic. Use logic to remove fear if any. Residual fear of childhood can cause psychological problems later in life.
Like many other processes, abstraction is in the developing stage in the ages of 7 to 11. Children can form mental pictures of concrete objects; i.e. can ‘think’ of an apple or a friend with all details and in action. However, hypothecation or abstract thinking about something not seen or experienced before is not developed. They are still unable to predict the outcome of an imaginary event. If you observe the mathematical word examples in the course books, you will realize the above. These examples are drawn from the child’s real world and include flowers, dogs, tables or people.
They are not given examples with variables like x and y, because it needs hypothecation. As the child approaches the age of 11, these abilities develop to a certain extent and for this reason the 11+ exams are planned accordingly. It challenges the assimilation of knowledge and ability to apply in real life.
Adult-Like, but not adults
In this stage, children start thinking and behaving like adults but they have not yet matured as adults. The approach to get the preferred behavioural outcome is again to go the logical way, discuss possibilities and steer them to the desirable conclusion. Let the decision be their ‘own’!
End of Egocentrism
Egocentrism is the characteristic of the earlier age i.e. till age 7. It is the self-centeredness or thinking from one’s own perspective only. The thoughts and morality revolves around themselves. Though the age when children start ‘decentering’ is still unknown, it is considered that by 11 years, egocentrism is definitely eliminated.
Friends become very important for children of this stage. They wish to spend more and more time with friends. Educationists therefore recommend group learning activities for this age. Group study, projects and team play bring about learning with pleasure. Meeting friends serves as the greatest motivation and learning always happens at the peak of motivation.
Parents too do not mind ‘sleepovers’ or visiting friends. The only care to be taken is a parent must be vigilant of the content the children deal with. They must ask what games they are planning to play. If the games are indoor board games, parents can visit in between to ensure if it’s the same activity going on. Sometimes, there are arguments. The minor ones can be left to be solved among themselves but major ones need intervention.
If they plan to watch videos, a parent must ensure that the contents suit their ages. An occasional peek into the dark room is essential, even if taken as interruption by the little adults. It is important for a parent to know the details of the child’s friends. Networking among parents is the best way to guard your child’s physical as well as emotional safety.
It is a good opportunity to train your child in social skills. You can train him to be a good host. You can instruct him to offer help if he is visiting a friend. Sometimes parents fret children’s sleepovers because of the mess they leave behind. You can train your child to help clear up when he visits other’s places. If you have other children over, you can get it done as an enjoyable teamwork from them and compliment enough to make them feel proud.
Me – a Child or an Adult?
Children of around 11 years face this conflict and need maximum support from parents. They do not like to be ‘my baby’ etc. in public. But at home, they want to be cuddled. A parent has to just sense the need of the child and act accordingly.
Actions and behaviour of an adult is considered unchangeable. You cannot expect an adult to change patterns of behavior even if they are painful. But a child has the ability to change. The concrete operational child wants to take decisions like adults. But they should not be branded if the decisions go wrong; where they should again be given the status of a child. For example, 10-year-old Myra spoke some judgmental words about her classmate, Mohsin. She felt guilty about it but kept it to herself for long. There was an unpleasant rift. But the adult in Myra would not let her accept her fault. It was when she confided in her father, he lovingly counseled her to make amends. What was most soothing for her was the confirmation from her father that such a thing was trivial in life and can be erased by making simple amends. The child in Myra went ahead and apologized to Mohsin and there was relief and happiness.
Parents can also involve the adultness of the 10 or 11-year-olds in financial planning to some extent. The ‘adult’ in your 10-year-old will make the ‘child’ in him to think twice before demanding an expensive video game.
It is of utmost importance to sow the seeds of good values all the time till age 11. Values are best instilled through self-action of parents. Environmental values are best learnt at home from parents who switch off lights and heaters when not needed; who do not waste water or food. Social values are picked up from observation and internalization of parents’ social behavior. Activities like parents visiting orphanages, old age homes, donating food to the destitute etc. impact heavily on the growing child. When a child displays selflessness or magnanimity, the values can be permanently rooted if appreciated by parents. A child with high national values will respect her own country and the rest of the world.
The algorithm of instilling values is simple. Show values in action – encourage the same in your children – praise good actions!
The Young Adults: Formal Operational Stage
The last stage of the Piagetian classification includes children above 11 years of age, who seldom like to be addressed so!
This is the last stage of development before adulthood. They are independent in thoughts and actions. They make their choices of life by the end of adolescence. The deductive reasoning develops completely. Students of this stage are given complex mental tasks like debates, elocutions and abstract reasoning. Concepts like structure of an atom, radioactivity and integration, which need abstract imagination and cannot be easily demonstrated, are included in the syllabus. Deductive logic makes students think scientifically. They can hypothecate the possible solutions and are able to follow systematic steps of problem solving.
An adolescent has a heightened concept of self-image. They want to be admired, recognized for their uniqueness. They want to be a unique identity. This urge influences the choice of clothes and appearance, behavior and values. This need to be unique again brings in the adolescent self-focus. If not checked in time, it can turn into narcissism.
It is best for an adolescent to be engaged in activities like games and sports, music, dance, crafts apart from academics as he/she can explore more creative fields for self-expression. The UID is then no more only hairstyles and shoes but ‘Tim the basketball player’ or ‘Zoya the rapper’!
Tim may not become the national team member in future, neither Zoya a top singer, but the self-worth they have gained through the time spent in a meaningful way will go a long way in building their characters.
The formal operational student can think about their own thoughts, which is called Metacognition. They can analyze their own thoughts, supplement with experience and synthesize a plausible solution. The field of application could be anything on earth, from music to marine life conservation.
On the edge of Adulthood
An adolescent is pretty much capable of managing her finances. She can plan expenses as per the budget. Growing financial wisdom is the basis of preparing for adulthood. Students start thinking about their vocational choices. Some are certain about their choice, some are confused and some feel they are sure about their choice but in reality, they are not. Professional guidance and counseling plays a vital role in deciding the career of a student. But parents’ role becomes of utmost importance at this stage. They must constantly be with their children for mental support. Visiting places or institutions of the child’s interests gives the real picture of the occupation. Going through academic materials can also help.
Ria always thought she wanted to do fashion designing. After she was enrolled for the course, she realized that geometrical concepts were not meant for her. She then changed her course to fashion merchandising which involved more of commerce and computers. Going through the syllabus before deciding on the course is the simple and effective way to choose the suitable discipline.
The bottom line for parents is to understand your child as well as other children well and put them on the right path as good leaders and co-operative followers.
Swati Korde is Academic Head at Champs Learning in West London. Champs Learning is a leading educational institution providing exam preparation for students from year 1 to GCSE in English, Maths, Science as well as for 11+ examinations. For more information, visit www.champslearning.co.uk