Your Child's Brain in Week 89
When your child started spouting his adorable first words—"mama!" "doggie!" "gone!"—there was logic behind why he chose those the ones he did. You may remember that your child's interest in an item ("ball"), its relevance to his life ("juice"), and how he could control its quantity ("more!") all affected which words he latched onto first. Causality, too, affected your toddler's inaugural utterances. Children at one year are highly interested in cause and effect, so "there!" and "uh-oh!" may have made brief appearances early on.
During the second half of your child's second year, you might hear your little one say "gone!" as you play hide and seek together. Or you might hear him say "there" as he uses a string to pull a toy toward him.
Scientists wondered (as perhaps you have) which comes first—a child's new skill, or the word he uses to describe it.
What the Research Shows
Researchers launched a longitudinal study with 13-month-olds, whom they followed for six months. Throughout that time, they repeatedly provided the children opportunities to engage in tasks relating to these two concepts:
Disappearance. The researchers had the toddlers try to find objects that had been either completely covered or hidden under these circumstances:
- While the child was watching
- When the child was not watching
- In several places while the child watched
- In several places while the child wasn't watching
Means-end accomplishments. (This is a term used to describe completing an action by using a tool or device.) The researchers also observed how the toddlers completed the following tasks:
- Using a string to pull an object
- Using a stick to obtain an item
- Dropping a necklace into a bottle
- Stacking a set of rings on a post
Then they noted the children's use of language as they performed each of these tasks.
Once the children successfully completed the disappearance tasks—such as finding an object hidden under a cloth—they soon used the word "gone" as they found it. And once the children successfully completed the means-ends tasks—such as retrieving an object with a stick—they soon used the word "there" as they completed it. The appropriate word to go along with each specific task followed their children's ability to complete the task.
What we know from this study that these one-word usages are more about understanding concepts and less about describing precisely what each child had actually accomplished. These toddlers weren't able to express, "I'm so proud of myself because I can drop a necklace into a bottle," so after completing the task, they simply said "there." And that, accompanied by a wide grin, was enough to proclaim mastery.