From a young age, children begin to doubt unproven assertions, leading to youngsters becoming more skeptical — and it’s actually a good thing. There are several reasons why caregivers should encourage this healthy skepticism in their children.
Telling your kids that omelets are “egg pizza” might not be as funny to them as you think it is.
A new study published in Child Development shows that as kids get older, they start to doubt the things their parents and teachers tell them.
Two preregistered experiments were examined by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Toronto to find out if and why young people investigate seemingly unbelievable claims.
The first study involved 109 kids between the ages of 4 and 6 and involved them playing with a hacky bag, a sponge-like material, and a rock. They probed, “Is the rock hard or soft?” and similar queries. The kids all had strong words to say. And then there were the contradicting statements, such as “Really, the rock is soft, not hard,” that were made to some. The children were reassured that they were right in their assessment that the rock was tough. All the kids, including the ones who had been informed the rock was soft, insisted it was hard when questioned a second time.
Children between 4 and 7 were the focus of the second study. Participants were told that an adult had made a bold statement like, “The sponge is harder than the rock,” so order to elicit an unexpected reaction. It was the 6–7-year-olds who were most likely to insist on checking it out for themselves. For instance, many wanted to know if they could feel the rock and the sponge. According to the study’s authors, these results suggest that, as they age, kids start to realize they have concerns about adults’ shocking claims.
‘There is still much we do not know,’ said Samuel Ronfard, director of the University of Toronto’s Childhood Learning and Development (ChiLD) Lab and an assistant professor there. “Yet, it is undeniable that kids don’t always believe what they’re told. People give what they’ve been told some thought, and if they have any doubts, they go looking for other sources of information that might either back up or refute the initial claims.”
One expert feels these findings are favorable, which may come as a surprise to the many parents who, understandably, got away with telling the occasional white lie.
“When children are skeptical, they are learning to problem solve and learn to think independently, which ultimately ends up leading to confidence,” explains Holly Schiff, Psy.D., a certified clinical psychologist with Jewish Family Services of Greenwich.
Skepticism can help kids develop critical thinking skills and awareness of potential dangers like riding in a car with a stranger.
While it’s great when kids ask questions, they should also be able to trust their parents when they tell them it’s time for something like a doctor’s visit or a flu shot.
Dr. Schiff advises parents to work on developing their children’s trust in them so that they will accept their authority when it is deserved.
Being honest and sincere with your child and being receptive to their questions and concerns might be beneficial.
“Be sure you establish an environment that welcomes open communication and dialogue so that even if they have questions or are suspicious, you answer in a way that further builds their faith in you,” Dr. Schiff adds.