"Put Away Childish Thinking"

 Bobby G. Bodenhamer, D.Min.  

One Hour and Forty-Five Minute Presentation of "Put Away Childish Thinking" now available on Audio and Cassette Tape.

 Part 1 – The Theory

 In The Child’s Conception of the World (1965) Jean Piaget meticulously mapped out how children think.  This work came from many years of observation and study of children.  He discovered how we humans function as children and in so doing he made a major contribution to our understanding not only of how people function but maybe more importantly, how we dysfunction. It may be safe to say that these thinking styles that develop in childhood during the first seven years of life, comprise the basic ingredients of most, if not all, problem states. These thinking styles play essential roles in developing and maintaining limiting states in adulthood. The thinking styles of childhood do not serve one very well in adulthood.   In particular he pointed out these categories:

(Note: terms inside the parenthesis are my terms while the terms in italics come from Piaget.)

Certain flaws in thinking must occur for one to form a limiting belief or a non-resource state. These flaws dominate childhood perception and also take place when developing a “problem-state” in adulthood. Let’s look more closely at these perceptual flaws of childhood that we tend to carry over into our adult lives:

  1. (Black and White Thinking) - Either-or thinking – Thinking in black and white terms, all or nothing thinking. It is either black or white; there is no gray area.  A child hasn’t developed the reasoning ability necessary in understanding that the human mind can process meaning that lies between opposite poles.  For example, in “either-or” thinking one would believe that you must be either “mad or glad” for you cannot be somewhere in between. The adult mind understands that there can be degrees of anger as well as degrees of gladness but a child cannot perform this level of abstract thinking.  To a child, dad cannot be “partially” angry. He is either angry or happy.

    Such thinking tends to “absolutize” concepts and to freeze them.  Much of the labeling done in psychology lends itself to this type thinking.  For example, when a person hears an “authority” like a psychologist state that they are clinically depressed, the person often concludes “I am depressed and I can be no other and I have no choice in the matter.”   Regrettably, rather than moving the client out of depression, this type thinking freezes the client in depression.

  2. (Blocking Out Past Counter Examples.) - Irreversibility refers to the inability to remember how things were before the present set of circumstances. A child does not have the ability to recall contrary events happening prior to the event in focus. For example, suppose that in an emotional outburst dad berates the child as “being stupid.”  A typical response would be for the child to take in these words as point of fact and not be able to recall all the prior times when dad praised the child for his or her brilliancy.  The child will only recall that dad said that he or she was stupid and never remember the prior moments of praise.

  3. (Jumping to conclusions) - Over generalizing – Using inductive reasoning (going from the “little” to the “big”) to draw conclusions and generalizing the conclusion. Over-generalizing happens when a person jumps to conclusions (the big thing) based on limited information (the small things). She will notice one piece of a current situation that resembles a previous one and assume they must be the "same." This makes up prejudice. A child may reason that if my mom complains of being sick all the time then all moms must be sick all the time. The details of a circumstance get ignored because the mind does not consider the differences; instead, it only notices the similarities.

  4. (Personalizing) - Egocentrism  – A focusing on self to the exclusion of other points of view. The egocentric person focuses on self to the exclusion of other points of view. This type thinking leads the child to “personalize” all the events surrounding her.  If something bad happens, the child will conclude, “It must have been my fault. There must be something wrong with me.”  

    Egocentricity also involves an individual believing that her point of view exists as the only point of view thus all others think the same way.
    The egocentric assumes that her own map of the world governs the thinking that occurs. 

    I believe it was Albert Ellis who expanded on the concept of “personalization.”  He spoke not only of “personalizing” but also of allowing the personalizing to “pervade” all of our thinking and our behavior and to believe that the hurt is “permanent.”  So, when we personalize hurt and let it pervade all of our thinking and believe it is permanent we in fact “pee” all over ourselves. Instead of personalizing, let’s let the criticism, hurt, etc be about what it is about and not about our sense of worth. Also, instead of letting it pervade all of our thinking let’s compartmentalize the emotions and not allow it to “bleed over” into our other thinking. And, instead of believing it is permanent let’s only hold onto the hurt long enough to learn from it and then let it go.  It isn’t permanent; it is only as permanent as we choose to make it. It can be temporary if we choose for it to be so.

  5. (Cause-Effect Thinking – Playing the “Blame Game”) - Transductive logic – Two events occurring closely in time receive cause-effect attributes. Children use transductive logic in explaining events in their world. Children tend to take one specific event and generalize from that specific event. A classic example is of the mother in San Francisco who told her child that if he slammed the door, something terrible would happen. Well, he slammed the door and they had a severe earthquake. Unable to go "meta" or “outside” or “above” the experience, the child believed his bad behavior "caused" the earthquake.  Don't you wish you had that kind of power?  A child's mind does.  

    Cause-Effect reasoning
    also comes into play when you believe the other person’s behavior caused your emotional state. You notice your anger came right after the other person behaved a certain way or said certain words. You attribute your anger to the other person because that was the event just before your anger started. Never mind what took place in your mind that really generated the anger. Anger prevents considering other sources of anger, other points of view or additional information outside the initial perception.

    Many children of divorce blame themselves for the divorce.  Cause-effect thinking leads the child to search for a cause or a reason for the divorce and not understanding any, blames themselves.

    This type of thinking leads children to conclude that events coinciding in time serve as acceptable explanations for causal agents. The family dog walks into the room just when the child spills his milk. Using transductive logic, the child attributes the spill to the dog. It seems all of us at any age seek knowing cause. In the primitive thinking patterns of children seeking a "cause" feels like it saves them from taking responsibility for their own behaviors.

    When adults play the “blame game,” they are thinking like children.  By blaming others for our behavior/thinking we are saying that they somehow “caused” our problem. We blame them rather than take responsibility for our actions.  And, as long as we refuse to take total responsibility for our own thoughts/behavior we will remain stuck in our childish thinking.

    As with “either or” thinking in number one above, cause-effect thinking leads to the “victim” mentality present in much modern psychology and sociology. This thinking concludes that since you grew up in a dysfunctional family you had no choice in becoming dysfunctional yourself.  And, regrettably, this thinking leads to the belief that when growing up in a dysfunctional family leads to dysfunctional thinking in adulthood, as is often the case, one must remain in this dysfunctional thinking.  A person will conclude, “My parents were alcoholics, I can’t help the way I am.”  Such erroneous thinking leads to one remaining in dysfunction rather than taking responsibility for one’s own thoughts and doing something about it including getting help if necessary.

  6. (Narrow Mindedness) - Centration displays itself when anger and the “offending” event become the sole focus, excluding any contrary evidence. You dwell on the other’s “offending” act to the exclusion of all that is contrary. You may then go on a hunt for other similar examples from this person’s past. Irreversibility leads you to further dwelling and loss of memory for the state or person’s behavior prior to the adverse event. You lose awareness of your higher-level alternatives and it becomes very difficult to focus on information outside the supposed offending event. In fact, if you consider contrary evidence, your anger modifies into another state such as confusion or curiosity about the event, becoming solution-oriented instead of self-protecting and vengeful.

    By the concept of centering we refer to the process of a person focusing his attention on a narrow range of information. That excludes other significant information about the stimuli or event. In practice, centering equates to trance. While in trance a person focuses intently on one small area. Likewise, in centering the focus of the person narrows to a fine point to the exclusion of all other details. In centering the person takes some portion of an event or stimuli out of context.

    Children remain in this centering state for about the first seven years of their life producing quite an effective learning machine due to their intense focus. While effective for learning, the limited information available through the narrow focus may produce significantly limiting beliefs.

  7. (Going from the small to the big or “making mountains out of mole hills) - Inductive logic – Reasoning from a specific event and making general inferences. This is very similar to over generalizing.  When children do this, they tend to make one event apply to all events.  For example, a child reasons that if daddy is an alcoholic all men are alcoholics.  To that child alcoholism is normal. Only when the child “visits” a friend’s home where the father doesn’t drink will the child learn better. Depending upon how old the child is when first introduced to a “normal” family, the child will have a very difficult time understanding counter examples to alcoholism.  

  8. Animism – Giving inanimate objects life. To a child, “Teddy Bear” is alive and the walls can hear. They possess human qualities. Animism is another of the traits of childhood thinking. Animism occurs when inanimate objects are given animate qualities. All objects come alive when animism is at play or work. This means that, to a child, the walls do have ears and the shoes under a child’s bed can come to life. Her teddy bear or doll is a real living and breathing being. The shirt in the closet becomes a monster in the night. Cartoons, animated films and children’s books utilize this animism principle to reach children where they think. All of us retain this ability throughout our life. We just put so many ayers over it (Meta-States), but it still resides within.  “Wall Street” was angry today.  My watch tells me it is time for me to go to work. I find little evidence where this style of thinking leads to problems in adulthood with the exception of those suffering a pathological disorder in that they are totally out of touch with reality.  

    We use these same cognitively limited styles when we generate problem states or limiting beliefs. If you alter one of the perceptual pieces the whole irrational structure crumbles. The cognitive styles identified by Piaget, build walls around information and beliefs that prevent alternative information from being considered. Therapy in general, and hypnotic language in particular, challenges the narrow thoughts or beliefs and expands awareness. This expanded awareness defeats and removes these cognitive clogs.

    A Case Study by John Burton, Ed.D. (Burton and Bodenhamer, 2000):

    A particular case serves as a good example to illustrate the influence of these cognitive principles and how hypnotic language can bring about a more effective choice. This case involved Doug who tended to fly into a rage when others made comments that he perceived questioned his sense of personal worth. Doug and his fiancé, Linda, came in for counseling. Doug's temper outbursts had almost ended their relationship. Doug regularly took offense at benign comments that Linda made about his actions and his appearance. Both agreed, when looking back, that the comments could easily have been taken as either lightweight or offering alternative perspectives rather than criticism. But when Doug heard Linda's criticism, he immediately personalized them as a threat to his sense of personal worth. Upon hearing her comments, Doug would go into a rage. He would yell, cuss and berate Linda. This led to several short breakups between them. In order for their marriage to survive, they had to overcome these accumulated hurdles.

    Several cognitive elements became evident when Doug described his reasoning about these comments that led to rage.

    First, Doug took them as a personal (personalizing).  Doug believed that Linda's comments must be about him. Doug had "I" trouble as his awareness totally focused on himself.  Rather than a comment about a behavior or his appearance, Doug felt the comments referred to him as a person thus addressing his sense of personal worth.   He ignored the lengthy relationship history with his fiancé that included much mutual support and encouragement (Forgot their prior good times). 

    Doug admitted that the good times occupied at least 98% of their time together. The fits of rage required centering (narrow mindedness) his focus on the 2% of the time with “derogatory” comments. Centering on these comments led Doug to conclude,  “She is always finding fault with me.” So, in Doug's eyes, Linda "caused" his rage (cause-effect thinking).   The rage response also required over generalizing and black-white thinking.  Due to Doug's tendency to center his focus on just the bad times with Linda, he over-generalized to "all" of their relationship as being bad. Nor, could Doug see and shades of good or bad. In his mind it was either good or bad and mostly bad.    He inductively reasoned that since he perceived Linda as making specific judgments about his sense of personal worth, she must have believed that everything about him had a bad connotation in her eyes (making mountains out of mole hills)). His personalizing prevented Doug from taking Linda's point of view. Doug could not consider a different purpose for the comments at the time they were spoken.

    Part 2 - Growing Up Our Thinking: A Biblical Perspective

    1.                  We are responsible (Take responsibility for your thinking.) -  “In those days people will no longer say, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—his own teeth will be set on edge.” (Jeremiah 31:29-30)


    a.   Playing the “Blame Game” doesn’t work with God.
    b.   He holds us responsible for our action.

    c.      Jesus did not excuse behavior; He forgave it but only when He saw repentance:  

    Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

    Mark 1:15 “…
    The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

    2.                  The Bible compels us to put away childish thinking - When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”  (I Corinthians 13:11)


    a.      If as some in our society believe that we cannot change our thinking, then God would not have commanded us to do so.


    b.     Numerous Scriptures command us to change our thinking:

    Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…”

    Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”


    Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

    3.                 To know Christ is to be made brand new and that includes our thinking or we certainly wouldn’t be brand new.

    Ezekiel 36:26I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

    II Corinthians 5:17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

    4.                  What happens to “black and white thinking,” the refusal to “see past positive examples,” “jumping to conclusions,” “personalizing,” playing the “blame game,” “narrow mindedness,” and the “making of mountains out of mole hills” when you apply your position in Christ to that kind of childish thinking?


      "Your Position in Christ"

      |Brought to bear on:|

      • Jumping to conclusions
      • Narrow mindedness
      • Playing the "blame game"
      • Personalizing
      • Making Mountains out of Molehills
      • Black and White thinking
      • Blocking out past positive memories

        Having brought Christ to bear on your childish thinking, 
      you will “grow up” your thinking.
      What a great example of how “higher levels modulate lower levels.”
      In the Meta-States model as developed by L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. (1995),

      we understand that when we apply one thought to another thought, 
      the original thought will modify. In the above example, 
      when we apply our  “new creature” status to childish thinking,

      we in fact  “grow up our thinking” in and through
      the Lord Jesus Christ.  

      Childish thinking will not stand under the Lord’s thinking.  


      Burton, John, Ed.D. and Bodenhamer, Bobby G., D.Min. Hypnotic Language: Its Structure and Use. (2000). Wales: Crown House Publishers, Ltd.

      Hall, L. Michael. (1995). Meta-states: A Domain of Logical Levels, Self-reflexive Consciousness in Human States of Consciousness. Grand Junction, CO.: ET Publications.

      Piaget, Jean. The Child’s Conception of the World. (1965). New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams & Company.

      ©2000 Bobby G. Bodenhamer, D. Min. All rights reserved.