The benefits of childlike thinking

Kelly Smith

If you hear someone say to you, “You’ve got the mind of a child,” what would that mean to you? Would you take that as a compliment of your personality, or would you interpret it as an insult to your intelligence or maturity? 

While such a claim may sometimes be used in negative ways, I believe that this shouldn’t always be the default case because there are many ways in which thinking like a child can actually be very beneficial.

Think about it: How do children think? I remember learning in child psychology about Jean Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. The earlier stages are based more on perception through the senses, like seeing and feeling, while the later stages are geared more toward independent and critical thinking. 

As young adults, we have been in the final stage, formal operations, for about a decade. In other words, we can think for ourselves and come to conclusions based on our use of logic. While these skills are very important for us to have in life, I believe there are certain aspects of a child’s way of thinking that can also guide us through life sometimes.

This is not to say that that we should be immature in our thinking. After all, as I once read, there is a difference between being childlike and childish. Sadly, there are many times when adults are guilty of this type of attitude, doing things “because I want to.” 

One of the greatest benefits of thinking like a child is not overthinking. A child typically does not overthink things but tries to learn by watching someone else. I know this from experience. As a child, I learned a lot by watching my parents, and if something went wrong, I would ask them about it. 

Now, as an adult, I easily get wrapped up in trying to overanalyze everything. “Am I doing this right? Maybe I’m doing this part wrong. Well, if I got this result, that probably means that ‘this’ was the cause.” What I’ve found out through my experiences is that critical thinking can sometimes be your best friend, but other times it can be your worst enemy.

And that’s another thing. As adults, we can often be very prideful in our knowledge and skills. “Do you need help?” “No, I got it.” Because of this, we’re not as quick to ask for help when we should. Being told that we’re doing something wrong isn’t always pleasant, but it is sometimes necessary. 

Another good example of beneficial childlike thinking is living in the present. As adults, we are so often concerned about the future, how we’re going to take care of certain business that we have, how we’re going to handle things and what we’ll get out of something. 

A child doesn’t really worry about any of that. A child enjoys living in the moment. Where has that disappeared during our transition into adulthood? Sometimes, we need to take a step back and remember where we are in the present before becoming preoccupied with the future.

Of course, none of these examples are set in stone. There are always exceptions, and there is always a fine line between the two. Even though our adult thinking is necessary, there’s nothing wrong with being a kid at heart sometimes. Like many other things in life, this is a balance between the two sides, and going too far to either side can be bad. 

We don’t know everything, and we never will. So, as we continue to push ahead into the adult world and mature into adulthood, let’s not forget to be a kid at heart every now and then.