“There is still a lot we don’t know,” Samuel Ronfard, assistant professor at the University of Toronto and lab director at the Childhood Learning and Development (ChiLD) Lab, said in a news release. “But, what’s clear is that children don’t believe everything they are told. They think about what they’ve been told, and if they’re skeptical, they seek out additional information that could confirm or disconfirm it.”
How did researchers arrive at this conclusion? Well, scientists from the University of Toronto and Harvard University looked at two studies to determine whether and why children dug a little bit deeper into surprising claims from adults before they actually believed them.
In the first study, according to Parents.com, researchers gave 109 children ages 4 to 6 three objects: a rock, a sponge-like material, and a hacky sack. They asked questions such as, “Is the rock hard or soft?” All the children said hard. But, then, some were told something contradictory like, “Actually, the rock is soft, not hard.” Other children were told they were correct and that the rock was hard. When asked if the rock was hard or soft a second time, all the children—including the ones who were told it was soft—maintained that it was hard.
In the second study, according to Parents.com as well, researchers looked at children ages 4 to 7 years old. Experimenters told participants that an adult made a surprising claim, such as “The sponge is harder than the rock.” Children ages 6 to 7 years old were more likely to ask to see for themselves. For example, some asked if they could touch the rock and the sponge. Researchers believe these findings say that children begin to question adults’ surprising statements as they age and become more aware of their doubts.
Licensed clinical psychologist with Jewish Family Services of Greenwich, Holly Schiff, Psy.D said to Parents.com that the skepticism of these study participants is actually a good thing.
“When children are skeptical, they are learning to problem solve, and learn to think for themselves, which ultimately ends up leading to confidence.”
Skepticism can help keep children safe by making them aware of serious stranger danger and other potential threats. It can also help build and strengthen their critical thinking skills. It is important to allow your child the room to “question” and be skeptical.
However, although allowing that room for kids to explore is important, Dr. Schiff also said in her interview with the popular parenting magazine that kids do need to follow their parents lead at times without question to build trust.
“It is important to build trust with your child, so they believe you when it is warranted,” Dr. Schiff said.
She continued, “Make sure to facilitate an environment that welcomes open communication and dialogue so even if they have questions or are skeptical, you respond in a way to further build their trust in you.”
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