A lightbulb moment

I Don’t Understand You! Learning How Your Child Thinks

Overview: All kids are smart in different ways! Learning how your child thinks allows you to not only understand them better but to communicate with them as well!

(This is the first post in the series called I Don’t Understand You! – Learning How to Connect with Your Child When They Think Differently than You)

I love my boys; but, I quite often don’t understand them. Things will be going along well with our lessons and all of a sudden they will insist that they don’t comprehend what they seemed up until then to be learning. Or I’ll be reading a book aloud to them that I think is fascinating and they are suddenly bored. Or I’ll ask them a simple question such as what they learned at church that morning and they will shrug and say they don’t know and then sulk because they don’t want to talk about anything.

What are our kids thinking when they display such confusing behavior?!?

I Don't Understand You! Learning How Your Child Thinks

I recently heard a Focus on the Family podcast which featured Kathy Koch, author of How Am I Smart? talking about nurturing your child’s intelligence. She emphasized the fact that all kids are smart in different ways. You’ve probably heard about multiple intelligence theory which says that we are all either a visual learner, an auditory learner, or a kinesthetic learner.

Kathy’s book sheds even more light on this subject. In it, she describes the multiple intelligence theory which was originally developed by Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University but which has since been written about by many others.  Kathy says that our brains are actually divided into eight parts. None of us are stupid; but, we are all smart in different ways.  Learning how your child thinks can transform the way you relate to them!

Here are the eight different ways that kids are smart:

1. Word smart – kids who talk almost constantly
2. Logic smart – kids who ask tons of questions
3. Picture smart – kids who have movies playing in their heads
4. Music smart – kids who love to hum, tap fingers or feet, whistle or sing
5. Body smart – kids who learn with their entire bodies by moving and touching
6. Nature smart – kids who enjoy animals and being outdoors
7. People smart – kids who are able to read body language and discern people’s mood and/or intentions (extroverts)
8. Self smart – kids who think deeply and require privacy, quiet and space (introverts)

We all exhibit these areas of intelligence in varying degrees. Kathy recommends that we study our children to determine how they are smart.

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Learning How Your Child Thinks

In order to figure out how our kids think we need to observe the following:

  1. What’s easy for them?  What’s hard for them?
  2. What do they do in their spare time?
  3. What gets them into trouble?
  4. What do they avoid doing?
  5. What kinds of things do they ask questions about?
  6. What holds their attention?
  7. What do they do well in their schoolwork?
  8. What about them drives me nuts?  🙂

We can also go over the 8 areas of intelligence and ask our kids where they think they excel.

I Don't Understand You

Once we better understand how our children are smart, we don’t necessarily have to change the curriculum. Usually, we can just change our methods and the words that we use while teaching them. We can also change the activities we require our children to do.

Rather than always having your music smart child write a paper, occasionally let them write a song. If your nature smart child has some reading to do, let him do it outside in the tree house. If your body smart child needs to practice their math facts, put a basketball in his hands and let him shoot baskets or jump on a trampoline while going through his times tables.

We need to be sure we aren’t giving our kids the impression that they aren’t acting right or that they aren’t smart. This could cause certain areas of their brain to shut down. Rather than reprimanding word smart kids for talking too much, teach them how to use their unique gifts for good purposes versus bad. Teach them how to listen. Help them learn to be teachable. Remind them that they aren’t stupid. Certain things are just hard for them because of the way they are smart.

Helping Our Kids Develop Different Areas of Their Brains

We also need to remember that all of these areas of the brain can be developed if we are intentional.

Expose your kids to a wide variety of activities! The earlier we do this with our children the better results we will have. We need to give kids time and motivation to help them develop various types of intelligence.

For example, If you say the word “dinosaur,” some people will first see a picture of a dinosaur in their head. Some will first see the word dinosaur… Ask your child which one they see and then ask them to try to visualize the other one. With some effort and practice, they should be able to do it. This helps to develop their picture-smart intelligence.

→ Related Content: 10 Ways to Connect with Your Son in 10 Minutes or Less

When our children are put into a situation where we know something will be difficult for them, we can use it as a teaching moment to help them expand their mind in different areas. Explain to them why they will feel uncomfortable in advance. Tell them what they can do to feel more comfortable. Remind them that they aren’t bad kids. They may just struggle in certain areas because of how they think.

We also need to realize that our kids aren’t necessarily wired the same way that we are.

We can occasionally choose to go to the parts of our brain where our kids are more developed as a way to honor them. Explain to them that we aren’t smart in the same way that they are and that’s why we’re struggling to communicate in this situation.  By the way, they can also come over to our areas of strength to honor us on occasion.

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When Our Kids Are Struggling

When children (teenagers, especially) think differently than their parents, they often feel like they aren’t good enough and can’t live up to our expectations. This causes them to implode emotionally and spiritually and to get into things they shouldn’t. When kids are under stress they act out. They sometimes choose destructive attitudes and behaviors where they feel safe.

Traditional school subjects are designed for word smart and logic smart kids. Some kids do well in school but do terribly in life and vice versa. Some kids feel strangled by being in school from 8 am to 3 pm. They find it irrelevant. Fortunately, as homeschoolers, we have the freedom to change our lessons around to better suit our children. Help your kids to discover why God made them the way He did. Remind them that they are who they are supposed to be.

We need to help our kids reach solutions in whatever way they are smart. If they are picture smart, endlessly talking to them won’t be very effective. Have them draw pictures to describe how they’re feeling and you draw pictures back. If they are nature smart, don’t talk to them inside their room. Take them outside and talk with them.

It’s never too late to try to discover who your children are. Children really do want to be in communication with their parents. They care what we think. Find the right teachable moment. Wait for them to come to us. Talk to them while sitting in the car or at night before bed. Then, they can’t see any disappointment in your face (if they are picture smart.)

Knowing how each of my boys is smart is making such a difference in our home.

One of my sons is word smart and logic smart.  Knowing that he learns by asking questions has helped me to stop getting frustrated by having to stop and answer him all the time.  My other son is music smart and he constantly seems to be making noises of some kind.  Rather than getting upset and asking him to be quiet, I’m learning how to redirect him when he’s disruptive and to let him continue when he isn’t.  There is less shushing going on in our house right now!  🙂

There are no perfect kids or parents. We put so much pressure on ourselves and our kids. Speak your child’s language. Honor them by going into their world. Determine the smart that your child is operating in at that moment. It isn’t always the same. Go there!

When kids feel smart, they are able to tackle new tasks with confidence.

Help your child to learn more about himself, to appreciate how he thinks, and to use his intelligence for good. Each kid is amazingly unique.  Learning how your child thinks will allow you to enter his world and communicate with him on a whole new level!

In what ways are your children smart? Read the relevant posts below to continue learning how to best connect with and teach your unique children:

1. Word smart – kids who talk almost constantly
2. Logic smart – kids who ask tons of questions
3. Picture smart – kids who have movies playing in their heads
4. Music smart – kids who love to hum, tap fingers or feet, whistle or sing
5. Body smart – kids who learn with their entire bodies by moving and touching
6. Nature smart – kids who enjoy animals and being outdoors
7. People smart – kids who are able to read body language and discern people’s mood and/or intentions (extroverts)
8. Self smart – kids who think deeply and require privacy, quiet and space (introverts)

Question:  Have you been able to discover how your child is smart?  Has knowing how they think helped you to relate better to your child? Please leave a comment below.

I Don't Understand You! Learning How Your Child Thinks

8 thoughts on “I Don’t Understand You! Learning How Your Child Thinks”


    1. Thanks, Erin. Yes, I know what you mean. We are all very complex individuals. As your son gets older, you’ll get more and more glimpses of what makes him tick and the man that he will become. Just keep studying him. 🙂

  2. It sounds great but seems so hard to do! Especially now that I have 5 kids, four who are boys! I am trying to learn about them but I still feel lost. I get tiny glimpses and try to hone in on them, but I feel I am still missing the mark. I can’t wait to see your other posts!

    1. Actually, they’re all out there, Elizabeth, so you can read away at your leisure. (wink, wink) Oh yeah, with five kids you’ll just have to do your best. You might not be able to tailor things quite as much as if you had one or two. But if you’re really struggling to reach one child, hopefully, this information will be beneficial for you!

  3. Dannie Buenaventura

    What if my child exhibits 4 of these 8? Should I just focus on one or study these 4 and make sure to find balance? Upon reading each, I must say, my kid is a word smart, logic smart, picture smart and music smart.

    1. Honestly, most of us have more than one of these aspects to the way we think. And that’s healthy! Balance is always good but I would start by focusing on one or two areas where you think your child will most respond and then branch out into other areas.

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