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Inside the third grader's brain

What insights can neuroscience offer parents about the mind of a third grader?

By Hank Pellissier

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The third grader's brain

"Is this good? It's not good? You didn't say it was good right away, so you think it's bad. Now I hate it and have to do it over again!"

Many eight-year-olds are hypercritical, particularly of themselves and their efforts. Their judgmental self-loathing seems to indicate pitiful self-esteem, and mommies and daddies might worry, but . . . don't! Self-flagellating third-graders are just passing through a brain development stage known as learning "evaluation." They'll inflict this new cognitive skill on themselves, and also on you! Third-graders enjoy catching parents and teachers making mistakes, but they'll also beg for praise to alleviate shame in their own perceived flaws.

Here's a flurry of contradictory adjectives that can describe a third grader: exuberant, self-deprecating, gregarious, obnoxious, friendly, secretive, silly, bossy, dramatic, defiant, cheerful, affectionate, curious, resistant, helpful, rude, know-it-all, insecure, easy-going, impatient. This tangle of at-odds traits is due to the young brain's evolving — and confusing — abilities. Here's what’s happening in your third grader's smart, jumbled, and often very funny mind, and how you can help your child along:

Photo credit: andy white

Hank Pellissier is a freelance writer whose fiction and essays have been been widely published and anthologized. A former columnist for Salon and SF Gate, he is a regular contributor to h+ Magazine.

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