Your Child's Brain in Week 60
All parents hope that their child will be willing to do for others. We want our children to help Mommy find her keys, Daddy to empty the dishwasher, a sibling to feel better when she's sad … these dreams of raising responsible, caring, helpful children extend beyond our own families into the community and the greater world beyond.
And hard as it may be to believe—especially if your own child's favorite activities still involve dumping the contents of anything she can reach and overturn—toddlers at this age will begin to exhibit helpful traits that, if fostered, will last a lifetime.
What the Research Shows
In one study, researchers set up a situation with 14-month-olds whereby an experimenter pretended to need a pen that was across the room from where the two of them sat. Once each child realized the experimenter needed assistance, most toddled across the room and clambered over a couple of cushions to retrieve the pen and return it to the experimenter.
This research demonstrated that even at the beginning of their second year, toddlers are altruistic by nature, innately eager and willing to help even strangers when called upon. This interest in altruism happens at about the same that we know children are developing empathy. At this age, your toddler is beginning to recognize the thoughts, feelings, and needs of other people—even when different than their own—and they're willing and able to respond.
About the pen, your child might say (if only he had the ability), "I don't need that pen, but I realize that you do. I'm willing to help you out."
Week 60 Brain Booster
Now that your child is aware when others need help, involve him in assisting you around the house at a level you're both comfortable with. While he may be unable to tidy the toys all by himself, he can be responsible for returning his cars to a designated shelf or lining up his stuffed animals near his bed as long as you're right there coaching his efforts. Your toddler can set the napkins around a table that you set, or throw laundry into the washer or dryer, supervised. Nurture your child's interest in helping by recognizing his efforts and limiting your corrections and criticisms: Think participation, not perfection.
Of course, you need to model helpfulness as well. Attend to your own child's needs, of course, but also be forthcoming in assisting other parents or children when you're out together. Hold doors open for strollers behind you, attend to playground falls, pick up dropped sippy cups in restaurants. If you've been contemplating getting involved in a community service project, choose one that will allow your toddler to come along: She'll be at exactly the right age to begin appreciating your collective efforts, and this can set the stage for a lifetime of volunteering. (And if she can see other children her age helping, as well, this will further reinforce the good habit: Remember, peer influence is super strong right now!)
Curious about how else your toddler might be developing right now? Learn more about her clever brain and her growing body here: