How Childhood Beliefs Are Formed and Why They Matter

How Childhood Beliefs Are Formed and Why They Matter

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In my last blog, I discussed ways a parent can begin to untangle their child’s behaviors by digging deeper into any mistaken beliefs the child has created about themselves. Along those lines, it is important to understand how childhood beliefs are formed and why they matter.

In addition, it is helpful to understand the way the brain creates beliefs and thoughts. This knowledge will better equip parents to understand how to help kids rethink any mistaken conclusions they have made about themselves that may cause them emotional pain.

In human psychology, there is a term that describes how all our beliefs are formed. That term is meaning-making. Meaning-making is defined as the process by which all people (even children) interpret, understand, or make sense of life events, themselves, and relationships.

In other words, from a very tender age, we are all seeking to understand what things mean.

  • My classmates are making fun of me, what does that mean?
  • I can’t understand what the teacher is saying, but it seems easy for others, what does that mean?
  • Grownups yell at me, what does that mean?
  • My parents are mad when I bring home my report card, what does that mean?
  • Someone looked at me funny, what does that mean?
  • When I think about having to read, my stomach hurts and I want to hide, what does that mean?
  • I’ve tried everything to do this (whatever “this” is), and nothing is working, what does that mean?
  • My classmates who are really smart (have more money, are better looking, etc.) have more friends, what does that mean?
  • I asked for help and no one listened, what does that mean?
An illustration of six blindfolded men feeling different parts of an elephant and each imagining the elephant is something else, such as a rope, a wall, a fan, a tree trunk, a spear, or a snake. Knowing how childhood beliefs are formed and why they matter helps parents correct any mistaken ideas a child has formed about themselves through inaccurate meaning-making.

Here’s the thing about meaning-making: the process hinges largely upon connecting something we are experiencing now with something we have previously experienced. If it feels the same, we react the same. So, when children experience something for the first time, especially if it produces feelings of trauma, disappointment, fear, or hopelessness, the meanings ascribed to those events become the foundation for what those children expect to deserve for the rest of their lives.

Since children have nothing with which to compare a first-time event, the meanings that they make without the benefit of a mature perspective can be profoundly impactful. They may begin to believe statements like the following: I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy. I’m too much for my parents and teachers. I need more than other people, and that means I’m broken. I’ll never feel safe or loved. I don’t belong. I don’t deserve to live.

As a child makes meanings such as these out of the events and feelings in their lives, they are forming core beliefs about themselves. Often, changes in a child’s behavior can reveal that a child has made a meaning out of an experience that has resulted in a negative core belief about themselves. It is vital for the caring adults in a child’s life to notice and address the emotions and behaviors a child exhibits. Otherwise, the suffering in that child’s life will last until they begin to unpack those beliefs themselves later in life, usually at great financial and emotional expense.

A boy in a dark blue shirt rubs his head and looks confused and distressed.

As caring adults, we can gently support our young people by approaching their beliefs, conclusions, and the meanings they have made with the curious question, “What if that event means something completely different?” Offer some alternative meanings. Then observe what happens to the feelings and anxieties of the child. If the child has concluded that the situation is hopeless, they can be supported emotionally while the two of you explore options. All the while, it is important to continue reassuring the child that just because solutions haven’t immediately presented themselves, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any solutions. There’s the power of meaning-making in action, once again.

What’s the takeaway here? The behavioral and academic challenges young people face are a doorway to walk through in exploration of the meanings they have made from their experiences. By unpacking those conclusions and presenting alternative options about what those events mean from a more experienced perspective, you help the child avoid a lifetime of self-fulfilling negative expectations for themselves. Expectation affects the outcome, but only 100% of the time. By making sure the social and emotional aspects of child development are lovingly cared for, the next generation will be poised for success, personally and professionally.

I hope you enjoyed this blog about how childhood beliefs are formed and why they matter. For a more in-depth consideration of action steps and helpful sample conversations, please refer to my archived blogs on dyslexia and my book, Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know.

Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.