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“He’s not breathing really well, and they tell us he’ll likely die in a day or two…” a mother was explaining to a group of adults about her father-in-law, and her young son’s grandpa. Her son was sitting in an adjacent room with his good friend, but he wasn’t playing as his mother likely thought he was. He was looking at the back of his mother’s head and listening intently. I could see him visualizing the situation as he tuned out everyone else in the room. He was thinking about his grandpa, suffering and death — and possibly even thinking about what it will feel like when his grandpa is gone.

Many children would rather listen to interesting adult conversation than play with other children. Their minds are processing at amazingly fast rates. “By 4, a child’s brain is more than twice as active as an adult’s. The brain continues to consume glucose at this feverish pitch through age 10 and then slows down until age 16, when it levels off at adult values.” (Steve Nadia, The Oregonian, Technology Review, 12-15-93)

Parents don’t always acknowledge the amazing processing capacity of their children. However, moviemakers, advertisers and gaming sites know what children can process and they continually use that knowledge to introduce topics to children that shouldn’t be processed by young brains. They also rely on the fact that parents will be naive enough to assume that, due to their young age, their children aren’t thinking about the often graphic topics being promoted. One of the best ways to manipulate children’s thinking process is to get them obsessed with a certain topic or character.

The conversations we have with our children, the things we allow them to spend their time looking at, and the books we read to them will format their brains. This leads them toward information, inspiration or stimulation.

In the list below it is noticeable that many of the topics children think deeply about relate to moral subjects. The most important learning to a child is moral learning. That learning clearly defines good guys, bad guys, heroes and villains.

What Children Think About

  1. What is right and what is wrong. Children tell on each other and have petty arguments because justice is really important to them. They’re constantly corrected by adults and quickly learn what’s right or wrong. Adults help children define morality. Even if no morals are defined by parents, children will still try to learn what’s right or wrong because they’re hard wired to find the right path, the right pronunciation, the right understanding, the right relationships, etc.
  1. What makes people happy. Unless children have been taught to only care about themselves they often try to nurture bonds with others. They plan surprises for their parents and siblings. I don’t know how many times one of my four children have said, “Mom, close your eyes and take my hand. I have a surprise to show you.”
  1. What their future will be like. I know children are often known for living in the moment and not looking ahead. In fact, many times I’ve spoken with my children about the need to look ahead and making wise choices. Even so, children often think about their futures as a bigger picture. They practice being mothers and fathers in their play, dream about their wedding days, and imagine what kind of job they might have. They don’t always see what needs to happen to make their future dreams a reality, but they do want to one day become happy, successful adults.
  1. If they’re a good person. Children are constantly trying to sort out the bad guys from the good guys. They gather facts to determine if they’re one of the good guys. They compare their talents to others. They see how quickly they learn and they keep a mental list of the compliments and acknowledgments they’ve received. Knowing they’re an important, good person is essential for their happiness and sense of fulfillment. This fact hopefully encourages us all to pay close attention to our children’s accomplishments. It’s important to help them find other ways to assess their value besides comparisons.
  1. What is the truth? Children want to know the truth. They’re always trying to figure out what’s really true and what’s made up. Sadly, many children are used to being emotionally and physically lied to and manipulated. A wise parent recognizes their child’s need for the truth and spends time regularly talking about life and what’s going on around them. Children should see their parents as the ultimate source of truth. Parents should regularly talk to their children about all subjects and arm them with the facts so they can better identify truth.
  1. What heaven is like. Since children are so imaginative they often find their brains wandering into spiritual realms more easily then adult brains. Every one of my children and foster children has come to me and asked things like these, “Do you think there is grass in heaven?” or “Do you think God sings with the choir, conducts the choir or watches the choir?” Thinking about heaven seems to give my children peace and comfort. It’s as if they’re trying to plan for their eternal futures.
  1. How it feels to be a baby. It’s very normal for children to go through phases of childhood when they revert back to sucking their thumb, talking like a baby, drinking from baby cups or playing with baby toys. They know they’re growing up, but yet seem to want to remember where they’ve been. This helps them mark their progress and still experience what younger people feel like. Additionally, children love to tell adults what the baby in the room is thinking and doing… and why. They oftentimes even try to act as the baby translator. It seems to bring children great happiness to see they’re growing.
  1. What being big feels like. Just like children love remembering what small feels like, they also like to look ahead to what being big will feel like. They try on their parent’s shoes. They even try to do adult work, even though they fall short. They keep trying to do big things until they’re successful. Again, they seem to know they’re growing and want to be good at growing up.
  1. What’s the best way to take care of children? Parents prove to be an interesting study for their children. Children watch their parents and try to determine if their parents are parenting them correctly. They compare the neighbor’s rules and tone to their parent’s rules and tone and promote the kind of parenting they feel the safest with. If parents thought more about the type of future parent they’re raising (instead of each small moment of crisis that occurs and the inconvenience of child rearing), then they would create a tighter bond with their child and a better parent for their future grandchildren too.
  1. Staying safe from danger. The other day my 13-year-old son randomly said, “Mom, if I sat in this position against a wall, I wouldn’t get shot as easily if someone was trying to shoot from the outside.” I don’t know why my son was thinking about getting shot, but I know he was and it wasn’t the first time. He has often told me how he would protect me if we had a home invasion. My children have discussed how to stay safe from bees, mice, cliffs, busy streets, germs, and even volcanoes. One child even suggested that it might be smart to hide in our bathtub if a volcano came to our town.

Children think about a lot of important things. As parents, we need to realize they’re always processing a lot of information. Talk to your children often. Remember, they’re listening anyway. Be their first source of information and you’ll forever be able to guide and direct them as needed throughout their life.

Click here to learn how the Peck family established a culture of open, honest communication and self-government.