Turns out, cognitive growth isn’t linear. What does this mean, for parents and teachers?
A Lot Goes into Children’s Memory
The secret to getting kids to do what you expect is to ask them to repeat it back. If they can repeat to you what is expected then they are good to go, right? False! If kids can repeat back what has been told to them then all that says is that they heard what was said. Human brains are complex in how they receive and store information, making it difficult to know when something has clicked for someone in such a way that it will stick around in their memory. For little children this process may be more complex due to the lack of development in comparison to the brains of adults. In this paper I will explain why kids do not understand everything that is told to them even when they repeat it back.
Children tend to have a difficult time focusing on one thing over another, especially when one seems more intriguing than the other. When there is more going on than their brains can handle then the information will be cut out somewhere as to not overwork their brains. This is the idea of limited capacity, the ability to only process so much information at a given time (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). Even adults have a limited capacity, but unlike children they can better manipulate what their brain brings in. There are two sides to the spectrum of limited capacity, automatic processes, and effortful processes. Automatic processes require very little attention whereas effortful processes require many mental resources to be completed (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). Kids have the drive to play, they are full of energy and that makes play an automatic process. On the other side, sitting still and listening would be considered an effortful process because it is hard for them to stop playing to perform an action that does not please them. The ability to control oneself requires the development of basic level abilities, collectively known as executive function (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7).
Once kids have developed these abilities and can control themselves, they will be more capable of sitting down and hearing what their parent or guardian has to say. This, however does not guarantee that they will be able to remember exactly what was said, whether they repeat it back or not. The span of apprehension is the amount of information that a person can extract from a passive store, such as auditory sensory memory (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). Working memory involves storage and the ability to transform that information (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). This memory is very limited and as new information pours in the older information gets pushed out. Inhibition is the process of removing task-irrelevant information from working memory (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). Related to inhibition is resistance to interference, that susceptibility to a decrease in performance due to distractions (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). Kids are very easily distracted, meaning that they do not have great resistance to interference and will not perform at the level that is desired.
Cognitive flexibility aides on the other side of the argument that says if a child can repeat what is said that they understand it. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to switch between sets of rules or tasks (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). Meaning that a child can switch between tasks like going from running around and playing to sitting down and listening. Production deficiency is a large part of the argument. Production deficiency, which states that older children can produce strategies, unlike younger children. However, the younger children, when told to repeat or rehearse words or phrases, tend to remember more (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). Repeating what is said to them helps children remember what was said better than if they did not repeat it. Children are not able to problem-solve until they develop goal-oriented behaviors (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). When being told what to do they are receiving a goal that to accomplish they have to establish a 34goal-oriented behavior. This behavior is what gets kids to accomplish tasks. If they make it a goal or it is made a goal for them by their parents, they should show behavior directed towards reaching that goal.
Memory is a very complex process and is a large part of our lives. Memory has many aspects to it that take some time to explain. The first part that I will talk about is declarative memory, which is a broad category that can be broken down into two parts. Declarative memory refers to facts and events (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.8). One of the two parts of declarative memory is episodic memory, the memory used for episodes, such as remembering what you ate for a meal or what was said in a previous conversation (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.8). The second part is explicit memory, which is the memory that is consciously available and can be assessed by tests of recall. Recalling the names of locations, past events, or being able to remember names and birthdays are all example of the information that goes into explicit memory. (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.8). Another type of memory is semantic memory. This is our knowledge of language, rules, and concepts (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.8). When we learn the definitions of words or the rules of math this is where that knowledge goes. The last piece of memory is known as nondeclarative memory. This memory is used to store the knowledge of unconscious procedures (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.8). Unconscious procedures are those in which we do not have to think about to perform, these can also be called automatic processes. Examples of this are recognizing other peoples faces or spoken words. These are things that all people do, but do not think about.
Deferred imitation is a procedure in which infants watch an adult model act with an object and then are given that same object after a significant delay. If the child imitates this behavior at the time they are given the object then that implies that they have developed a long term memory of this action (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.8). This could mean that if a parent wants their child to perform a certain task as a chore then they must take the time to show their kid how to perform the task. Doing this will give them a memory to think back on what exactly is supposed to be done and the order of the tasks if that is relevant. Some strategies can be used to aid memory. These strategies are called rehearsal and organization.
Rehearsal is when the child repeats the information to themselves over and over to keep it inside of their head in an attempt place it into their long-term memory store (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). Organization is when a child combines items into categories so that when they think of a certain category that information will be there (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). With these strategies a child can repeat what a mother tells him over and over in his head so that he can remember it for later, or combine everything their mother says about chores into a “chores” category in their head so that information is more easily recalled when needed. For kids to hear what their parents are saying their parents must get rid of all potential distractions in the area. This is because kids do not have great selective attention. Selective attention is the ability to focus on one thing, of your choice, and not be distracted by other stimuli (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.7). If there are any distractions around it is very likely that a child will not pay attention to the details of what they are being told and will in the end forget most of what was said.
Social cognition means to think about your thoughts, feelings, motives, and behaviors, as well as those of others (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.10). This is something that all people have, but kids may not have it in the same manner as adults. Kids tend to listen more to their feelings and motives rather than adopting their parent’s feelings and motives. The best way to get a child to understand your feelings behind a subject or why you want them to do something is to explain why. Why should this be done? Why now? Why does it matter? These are questions a child may ask anyway so it would be best to use those as part of asking them to do something. If they know how important a task is to their parents and understand why they have been asked to do the task then they may be more easily persuaded to perform the task and do it well. That is social learning, which is defined as the acquisition of information from other people (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.10). Social learning is how we all learn and how we should all expect others to learn. The information given to someone is important in predicting what they will do with that information.
Kids may use symbolization to better memorize the steps to perform a task, or doing the task in general. Symbolization is when children think about behavior in images, allowing them to mentally view what they are to do (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.10). Forethought is the ability to anticipate the consequences of actions (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.10), which can determine how the task will be performed. If a child expects to be punished for not doing the task then they may do the task, but do the bare minimum. Whereas if a child does not believe they will be punished for not performing the task and understands that it is important to their parent they may do their best at the task. Self-regulation is the adoption of behavioral standards (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.10). Children will adopt their parent’s behaviors, meaning that parents are to blame if their child behaves poorly around the house. As parents it is important to behave accordingly yourself so that you can instill that behavior into your children. The most important part of having children do chores is making sure that they know what they are doing and this does not mean simply telling them. Vicarious learning, or learning from watching, is crucial (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.10). Children must be shown what they are supposed to do so that later when they are asked to perform said task alone, they know what to do. Our brain grows along with the experiences that we have (Bjorklund & Causey, Ch.4). Children should be pushed into performing as many tasks as possible before their teen years because this will increase the size of their brains meaning that there is more room for new neural connections to be formed. The more tasks a parent has their child do (within reason) may set them up with many schemas that are valuable in the real world, such as cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene.
If you want your child to do chores of some sort then you must show them the task(s) that need to be done so that they can first learn the task(s) and second save them into their memory. Telling a kid what to do while you show them and having them repeat it at that moment will cause them to rehearse the steps inside of their heads to store them into their long-term memory. Parents must implement strategies to push kids into learning new tasks. The parents of children are the superior role models in their lives, meaning that the behavior of the child and the ability of the child to learn come from their support or lack thereof. So, the question is, does having a child repeat the task given to them ensure that they know what they are doing? No, it does not because if the kid has not been shown the task before then they have no schema to pull out of their memory for the task.