Cognitive Limitations on Language

Cognitive Limitations on Language

Is your child’s vocabulary increasing by leaps and bounds?  Does she seem to be adding dozens of words every week?  If so, you have every right to be proud of her progress in the area of language development.  However, it is important to keep in mind that she still has limitations in the area of cognitive development that have an effect on communication.

Preschoolers are in what is referred to as the “pre-operational” period of cognitive development.  That means they are capable of thinking, but their thinking is not yet logical.  Consequently, while they can comprehend what words mean on a rudimentary level, they do not yet have the ability to understand complex concepts and build categorical hierarchies.

For instance, put a three-year-old in a room with his mother and another woman then ask him, “How many women are in this room?”

He will probably answer “One.”

You ask, “Where is the woman?”  He points to the other woman.

You point to his mother and ask, “What about her?”

He gives you a derisive look and responds, “That’s not a woman.  That’s Mommy!”

So if your brilliant little one makes a mistake of this sort, don’t downgrade your opinion of her language ability.  Simply recognize that it sometimes takes the mind a little while to catch up with what is coming out of the mouth.

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project.  He may be contacted via e-mail at