Monsters in the Pencil Box

Dr. Harris did an experiment where children imagined a monster in the box instead of pencils. They still said that the monster wasn’t real, but when the experimenter left the room, they moved away from the box—just in case… _

A sense of magic and make-believe is useful in a young child’s life. Fables, myths, historical stories, along with religious and faery tales, can provide a child with examples of temprament, relationships, and character strengths that support working through human problems — all of which help lay foundations for personality and character development. Children identify with story protagonists, and can sometimes learn the lessons that the story characters learn.

This suggests that the parents should exercise care in selecting the child’s story selection. Exposing children to indiscriminate television watching or non-selective video game playing, for example, is likely to teach them lessons of a confusing and contradictory — even crazy-making — nature.

Even young children make a sort of metaphysical distinction between two worlds. One is the current, real world with its observable events, incontrovertible facts and causal laws. The other is the world of pretense and possibility, fiction and fantasy.

[Most] Children understand the difference. They know that their beloved imaginary friend isn’t actually real and that the terrifying monster in their closet doesn’t actually exist (though that makes them no less beloved or scary). But children do spend more time than we do thinking about the world of imagination. They don’t actually confuse the fantasy world with the real one; they just prefer to hang out there…

We humans are remarkably good at imagining ways the world could be different and working out the consequences. Philosophers call it “counterfactual” thinking, and it is one of our most valuable abilities.

Scientists work out what would happen if the physical world were different, and novelists work out what would happen if the social and psychological world were different. Scientific hypotheses and literary fictions both consider the consequences of small tweaks to our models of the world; mythologies consider much larger changes. But the fundamental psychology is the same. Young children seem to practice this powerful way of thinking in their everyday pretend play.

For scientists and novelists and 3-year-olds to be good at counterfactual reasoning, though, they must be able to preserve a bright line between imaginary possibilities and current reality… _

Counterfactual, or “what if?” make-believe thinking, is useful from childhood onward, as is the ability to reason and act in a playful manner. Still, some children — and adults — do appear to lose the ability to decide which side of the reality :: fantasy dividing line they are on. This usually occurs when children have been over-sheltered from responsibility and real life engagement for too much of their childhood and adolescence — even into adulthood.

Very young infants appear to learn to distinguish between “possible and impossible events.” Two example studies here and here illustrate the phenomenon. Much of the ability to distinguish between the “possible and the impossible” seems to arise from experience in early infancy. Underlying the experience that allows such distinctions, are innate preverbal instincts that inform a natural math sense and a natural sense of physics.

Some children are better endowed with such innate instincts than others. If their experiences complement and help refine their instincts, such children may eventually add to the bodies of knowledge in those or related disciplines.

If parents fail to provide the experiences that help develop innate instincts and endowments, much of the child’s potential can go to waste.

In an age of general dumbing down and idiocracy largely due to ideology-bound political correctness, the world needs as many skilled and competent children — Dangerous Children — as it can get.

Learning to understand what each unique child needs is rather like learning to ride a bicycle or learning to surf. It is a balancing act that requires many subconscious adjustments and counter-adjustments on a moment by moment basis.

It helps if you are a Dangerous Child yourself, with a resilient nature.


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