Is Your Child Stuck In Level One Thinking?

Parents wear lots of hats: counselor, taxi driver, nutritionist, coach, conscience... Conscience? Many parents serve unwittingly as their children's conscience by constantly reminding them of their responsibilities. All parents would love their kids to do things without being constantly told to do them.  

In the book Motivate Your Child, authors Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller help parents learn to develop internal motivation in their children. Parents take steps in this direction when they understand that kids think on three different levels.

Let me describe those levels for you. Level One thinking focuses on one's own activity. This intense focus on the moment is typical of most children, and it is by nature egocentric.

Level Two thinking recognizes how our actions affect others. At this level, the conscience comes into play, helping children consider what's right.

Level Three thinking considers how God views our actions, and for Christian parents, this is a great goal. But honestly, most parents would consider Level Two thinking an important accomplishment for their kids. So how do we train the conscience and develop Level Two thinking?

"The development of the conscience helps children live on two levels of thinking at the same time. Life isn’t only about playing with a toy, eating food, or taking care of oneself. When teaching responsibility, every activity has a second dimension. Children learn to watch the clock, monitor their own fairness, and think about how their current action affects others. Unfortunately, some children just live on level one, thinking about the task at hand, and then rely too heavily on their parents to manage level two. Parents are continually living with level two thinking and actually become the conscience for their kids. They tell them what time it is, make sure they have their homework in their backpacks, and are quick to point out when meanness is present.

Children need to develop level two thinking in their own lives, and that can happen when parentstrain their children to think about more than the task at hand. Level two thinking is enhanced by the work of the conscience. Kids need to always be asking questions such as, “Am I doing the right thing? Should I be helping others? Am I staying on schedule?” Even young children can begin to learn level two thinking as they consider the needs of others, clean up one activity before starting another, and learn to be grateful instead of making others miserable with their whining or complaining.

A strong conscience gives children an internal motivation to be responsible and to do the right thing even when they don’t feel like it. Almost any area of parenting would benefit from a conscience approach. Parents can work with their children in a way that fosters this internal compass to help them for the rest of their lives." (from Motivate Your Child, published by Thomas Nelson, 2015)

Motivate Your Child contains many more great instructions for parents, as do all the books by Turansky and Miller. Understanding the way our children think and the methods for helping them mature are worthy goals for parents.  By seeing our children's thought patterns on these three levels, we can help our children move to more mature and godly levels of thought. You can buy their book at