Inductive reasoning is logical thinking that operates from specific cases to general principles. For example, a preschooler might conclude that dolphins are fish because they live in water and swim as fish do. As children develop more sophisticated thinking, they are able to employ deductive reasoning, in which they use general principles to form hypotheses. Adolescents, for example, might have heard that dolphins are mammals. They could test this hypothesis by identifying the definition of mammal and testing whether it applies to dolphins.
Inductive reasoning as applied to child development has an additional meaning that is very different from the one described above. Inductive reasoning, also called induction, is the kind of reasoning used by parents to help children understand the effect of their behavior on others. For example, a parent might say to a preschool-aged child, "When you throw sand on your friend he feels very sad and doesn't want to play with you anymore." Research demonstrates that this parental control technique, induction, is associated with higher levels of social competence in children than when parents use coercion or "love withdrawal" (Rollins and Thomas 1979).
Berger, Kathleen. The Developing Person through the Life Span, 5th edition. New York: Worth Publishers, 2000.
Hoffman, Martin. "Affective and Cognitive Processes in Moral Internalization." In E. T. Higgins, D. N. Ruble, and W. W. Hartup eds., Social Cognition and Social Development: A Sociocultural Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Rollins, Boyd, and Darwin Thomas. "Parental Support, Power, and Control Techniques in the Socialization of Children." In Wesley Burr, Reuben Hill, F. Ivan Nye, and Ira Reiss eds., Contemporary Theories about the Family. New York: Free Press, 1979.