Development of Logical (/Rhetorical?) Skills in Young Children

None of the “cognitive milestones” websites that come up on a quick google search address this.

I’m wondering what is known (or even what is wondered about) concerning the development of logical understanding in young children. I should clarify that I don’t necessarily mean the ability to solve logic puzzles. Rather, I have in mind understanding what makes for a complete argument, what constitutes a completed attempt at linguistic persuasion, what sorts of sequences of assertions ought to be felt as plausibly persuasive or motivational, and so on. So you might call what I have in mind the development of “rhetorical skills” instead. Sort of logico-rhetorico-communicative skillsets. Something like that.

I ask because damned if my kid isn’t already trying to run logical and rhetorical circles around me. I want to know if he’s supposed to be doing this yet. :slight_smile:

Frylock, how old is your son?

Three years and seven months.

Also, mind you, I didn’t say he’s doing a particularly good job of it. :stuck_out_tongue:

I’m just suprised (and sort of delighted actually) when I see him trying. It’s like this for all parents of kids this age, I’m sure, but it still comes as a pleasant (and frustrating) suprise for me.


I’m sure a few of us here have elderly parents who have yet pass these milestones.

My eight year old has been doing this for a few years, now. We’ll be discussing something and she’ll sing out with ‘TECHNICALLY, that doesn’t make sense’ or somesuch and she’ll try to rules-lawyer herself out of bedtime or something.

When she pulls it off well we give up and let her have what she wants. I like smart kids.

Just one bump won’t hurt I hope.

An example of what I’m talking about occured this evening.

At 8:45 PM, he peeked his head out of his room and asked “Daddy, is it daytime yet?”

“Look how dark it is in your room,” I said. “That means it’s night-time.”

“Well, sometimes though, it can be dark inside but light outside. And that means it’s daytime.”

That’s not just an argument, it’s a good argument. The kid came up with a valid counterexample to my own argument.

This kind of thing tends to make our converations very long as I often need to “prove” (so to speak) my every claim to him. It’s not just the typical repitition of “why” over and over again. He makes points. It’s really neat to watch–but very frustrating at the same time as the kid will never just accept what I said “on faith.” :smiley:

Well anyway, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about–basically, the ability to understand (and form) arguments. Anyone know of any research? I want to know what we think about how kids come to learn this kind of thing, and maybe how best to respond to it and encourage it.

I probably ought to just email a child development psychology prof or something…


I’m no expert, but Jean Piaget pretty much pioneered and set the standard for defining cognitive development in children. This chart gives a decent overview of his theory. According to him, genuine logical thinking develops between 7 and 11 years of age. He labeled children’s earlier attempts at reasoning as “transductive” - from particular to particular - rather than inductive or deductive. It’s not technically “logic” at all, but it’s the foundation for relating separate thoughts that logic can be built on.

In the anecdote department, my daughter was arguing with similar skill as yours at that age. Clever little beasts.

Frankly, you’re just sticking to your talking points, so I think he won some undecided voters right there.

For a three year old it’s a fantastic argument, but technically it’s a formal fallacy: denying the antecedent. :slight_smile:

Recently my eldest kid observed on what she considered a lack of critical thinking ability obo of her fellow college students. She expressed appreciation for my wife and me having expected our kids to provide some justification for their positions, rather than simply “I want …” She said she remembered when she was very young - I believe before she started school - and she wanted to eat lunch outside. Apparently my wife or I asked her to present an argument why we should eat outside instead of inside as usual. She said something about it being a nice day, and being able to look at the birds, which we agreed was sufficient reason to eat outside.

Probably a stupid example, but what I’m trying to get at is in our experience our kids responded to our expectations. We made considerable effort to have family dinners together as many days as possible, during which we were all expected to participate in conversation. We would often say “No,” but offer to change our position if they presented a good - and different - argument. And merely repeating the previous request would be met with “Asked and answered - move to strike!” “Nonresponsive” was another objection/concept they encoutered from an early age.

One other silly little thing we did, was if they could come up with any word I did not know, and if the word was in the dictionary, they got $1. It really is wonderful when you hear your kids using nice words appropriately in casual conversation at a young age.

In many ways it must have really sucked for my kids to have 2 attys for parents! :stuck_out_tongue:

For your kid, a situation such as you describe presents a great opportunity to introduce the scientific method. Form a hypothesis, devise a test, etc.

Rather than researching milestones, it always worked for me to err on the side of assuming greater ability. Answer any question tey ask to the greatest possible extent they can appreciate. And if you don’t know, help them look it up. It is amazing what your kid will accept as habit and 2d nature if you set the right example.

By four or so he should be turning to you and asking:


I don’t see exactly what you’re saying exemplifies denying the antecedent, but we may be interpreting the conversation differently or something.

On my reading, I argued:

If it’s dark in your room, then it’s night time.
It’s dark in your room.
So it’s night time.

And (on my reading) he replied by pointing out that the first premise is not true. The way he showed it’s not true is by adducing a counterexample to the conditional–a case in which it is dark in a room, yet in which it is not night time.

What did you have in mind, though, when you said he was denying an antecedent?


Dinsdale, thanks, that sounds like very good advice. I can easily imagine myself playing similar games with him in the next few years.


On second look, I think you’re right; I don’t think denying the antecedent fits exactly, but I’m pretty sure there’s a formal fallacy there. Your kiddos argument looks like:

This room is dark.
Some rooms are dark when it is daylight.
Therefore, it is daylight.

I think if you rephrase this it’s an undistributed middle:

All rooms that are this room are rooms that are dark.
Some rooms that are dark are rooms that are dark when it is daylight.
Therefore, this room is a room that is dark when it is daylight.

I’m open to correction, though.

I hope the 4 year old grasps this, 'cause you just fried my brain with that exercise.:stuck_out_tongue:

I think the kid’s argument is stated “backwards.” He’s not arguing that it IS daytime. He’s disputing his dad’s reasoning that a dark room proves it’s nighttime.

If it’s light outside, it’s daytime.
It’s dark in my room.
That doesn’t prove it’s nighttime as it makes no statement about what it’s like outside, which is where daytime gets defined.

I freeze my water in the bottle the night before work. A lot of my K-2 students will inquire as to how I “got” the ice inside the bottle, and I typically ask them to think about it and get back to me. Typically only the 2nd graders figure it out.

I didn’t think he was arguing that it is daylight, rather, I thought he was just arguing that I had given insufficent grounds for thinking it’s not daylight.

I think Sparrowhawk is reading it the same way I do.

In any case, this surely involves quite a bit of charitable interpretation on the parent’s part. :stuck_out_tongue:


My daughter turns 3 next week and she amazes with the abstract conecpts she seems to understand and some of the the arguments she makes. Similar example: She often doesn’t believe me when I say it’s dark. I tell her to look at the living room window (it’s too tall for her to see out of, but she can look at it) but she says “It’s not dark, maybe it’s raining.”

When she asks me to open the door to see if it’s dark or not, sometimes she gives in, but sometimes she points to the street light and says “Actually, daddy, there’s a light. It’s not dark!” (she just started saying ‘actually’ a few days ago and uses it correctly- i’m amazed) “Look at the sky, sweetie.” “Stars! See, it’s not dark!” But then I give her a look and she laughs, because she knows that her theory isn’t going to fly with me.

In this example, she knows that it’s not dark if there are lights. Dark means bedtime, she doesn’t want to go to bed, so she points to any light she can find to convince me it’s not dark so she can stay up. Although the things she says amaze me, I attribute it to simpler concepts such as lying about eating her peas when she really didn’t.

Don’t want peas. Daddy tells me to eat them. Tell him I did, get dessert.

Don’t want dark. Daddy tells me it’s dark. Tell him it isn’t, stay up and play all night.

The rest is just filling in the details, like how to answer when daddy asks why he still sees peas on her plate or why it looks pretty dark outside.

That chart linked to by SparrowHawk was very interesting and actually corroborates the response I was going to give.

IANA parent but I went through a phase of watching lots of parenting shows and one of the criticisms the behavioural experts gave of methods parents use to deal with children was inappropriate use of reasoning before children were developmentally able to actually relate to it - the minimum age they gave for using reasoning and bargaining with children was four, anything before that is generally a waste of time.