Your Child's Brain in Week 86
There was a time when the only emotions you saw on your child's face were joy, sadness, fear, distress, surprise, interest, and disgust. Now as your child grows into toddlerhood, you'll note as more emotions emerge: Specifically, you'll see guilt when your child takes responsibility for a misdeed.
What the Research Shows
In research setting with 17-month-olds, a researcher cradled a clown rag doll in her arms while telling the child that this was her favorite doll. Then the researcher announced that she was about to leave the room: The toddler could play with the clown doll, but she asked him to please take good care of it. The clown doll was modified so that as the child played with it, its leg would fall off.
How did the children react? The majority looked embarrassed: They exhibited a smile of sorts that researchers identified as being related to feelings of guilt. Also, most confessed to their mothers about the doll's broken leg, and nearly half of the toddlers tried to repair the doll. These behaviors—looking guilty, trying to fix the doll, and confessing—show that at even this young age, the children were taking responsibility for their guilt-inducing actions.
Week 86 Brain Booster
All parents impose rules on their children: For example, we gently pat the dog, we don't hit him; we carry and use objects, we don't throw them. When your toddler knowingly violates a rule that you've been consistent about enforcing, her guilt surfaces. And while no parent wants their child to be guilt-ridden—as this can hinder curiosity and exploration—guilt does serve a purpose to enforce house rules now and society's standards later. Guilt doesn't feel good, so even toddlers want to avoid it and relieve it once it surfaces.
What can you do? Interestingly, this study also revealed which parental traits encouraged healthy expressions of guilt. Researchers noted that parents whose children displayed feelings of guilt not only were consistent with their positive reactions when their children succeeded in mastering a goal or when they behaved appropriately, but they also responded negatively with a reprimand when their children violated an established rule.
So feel confident reacting regularly and appropriately to your toddler's behaviors, setting expectations for her that you are comfortable enforcing and that are appropriate to her developmental age and ability. Be sure to give her the opportunity to relieve those guilty feelings by teaching her to say, "I'm sorry" and then making up for the inappropriate action.
Curious about how else your toddler might be developing right now? Learn more about her clever brain and her growing body here: