Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Misconceptions in children

A few common related misconceptions among children (remembered in myself and others from my childhood):

  1. Categorizations are complete.

    Consider fauna (life-forms that move) and flora (life-forms that do not move) which exclude e.g. fungi (non-flora life-forms that do not move)—I still remember my feeling of disbelief when first hearing that fungi were not members of the flora.

    Another good example is that the vowel letters do not represent all vowel sounds on a bijective basis—or even that a particular language can contain sounds not present in another.

  2. The “most X” of something has the trait of X to an extremely high degree: Seconds are so fleetingly short that they can barely be noticed, a millimeter is almost infinitely little, steel is harder than hard, ... (This phenomenon also neatly explains some conflicts I observed in my childhood: Children who have Batman as the hero will adamantly claim that he beats Superman, and vice versa.)

  3. What a child is used to, is the one and only way things are. I recall once, possible five years old, when my family had dinner with another family, and I repeated the “thank you” formula my parents had told me to use after dinner: The children of the other family found this highly amusing, while I was consternated at their amusement.


    This formula, “Tack för maten och kamraten.”–“Thanks for the food and the comrade.”, was indeed a bit odd, and probably had a whimsical background.

    Note that the Swedish “kamrat” does not carry the strong communist connotations that the English “comrade” does, and that children often refer to each other as e.g. “lekkamrater”–“play comrades” or “skolkamrater”–“school comrades”—the English “mate”, “play mate”, etc., may come close.

To some degree these phenomena can be observed at higher ages, and it could pay for us adults to keep an eye out for them in ourselves. The third, in particular, is a trap that its easy to fall into.

“Lying to children”w (one of my pet-peeves) could make this problem worse by teaching children similar absolutes, where reality has relatives. Consider e.g. the common, highly incorrect, claim that consonants cannot be pronounced on their own.