How Kids and Teens Think

We’ve talked about making sure you get all of your questions asked when speaking with medical staff, however sometimes you may feel like you don’t even know where to start and what questions to ask.  You have so much information running through your head that you are trying to process.  Just like you are trying to process the information, kids and teens are going through this too, just in different ways depending on their age and development.  And they will be watching and listening to you, for cues on how they should be reacting.  If you are upset, they are more likely to be upset.  If you are calm, they are more likely to be calm.

As we move forward with discussing what to say with kids and teens, I feel it is important to give a couple brief examples of how kids process information and think depending on their age and development.

Babies and toddlers process information through their senses.  In as early as just a few months old, they can recognize facial expresses such as joy, anger and distress and they react to it.  They can even feel relaxation and tension in your body when being held.

With preschool and early school age children, their brains are not developed in a way yet that allows them to think logically.  We’ve all had to try to answer the famous “But why?” question a million times!  When they hear information, they understand it in a more literal sense.  An example of this, would be if they hear they need to have a CAT scan, a child of this age, would likely think of the animal, cat, rather than a camera that can take pictures of their body for the doctor.

School age kids around age 7-11 years old can start to think more logically.  They however struggle with thinking in hypothetical or abstract terms.  Using the CAT scan example again, they can understand it is a camera that takes pictures of their body, but they could have a harder time understanding how it takes pictures of the inside of their body.

Once kids hit around age 11 or 12, they become able to understand abstract and hypothetical thoughts more.  Typically the older they get, the more they will be starting to process information much like you and I do.  They will be able to understand the CAT scan will take pictures of the inside of their body and the doctors will be able to look at the pictures and understand how to help them.

Knowing how your child or teen is processing information will help you to break down the information you want to share in ways they can understand; and it will allow you to anticipate and clarify any misconceptions they may have.  A great place to start is by asking questions.  Most people want to start with telling kids information, however we don’t really learn what they already know or what they are thinking by talking at them.  We first need to listen, so we can talk with them.  Try asking “What are some things you are wondering or worrying about?” or “Tell me about what you’ve learned so far…”  This lets you hear what they are thinking in their own words.  Then you can respond to what they say, rather than having to think so much about what to say to them!

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2 thoughts on “How Kids and Teens Think

  1. That is a funny story! Thanks for sharing! 🙂 When I was in 6th grade I remember going to the doctor and was told I had mono. I was scared and started crying because I didn’t know what mono was, but it didn’t sound good! I was reassured quickly that I would be fine, but until then my imagination was getting the best of me. 🙂

  2. I do understand this. As a 12 year old (in 1979) I had to undergo an EEG (brain wave test with electrodes wires attached to my head) and the nurse made me mad and I called him a bad name in my mind…..suddenly I though “oh no, they can tell what I just thought and it’s printing out the words on their papers”. Needless to say that wasn’t possible (thank goodness or my mom would not have been happy with me!) but being not informed on how the test worked was a negative that I now understand could have been explained better then.

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