Your Clever Toddler in Week 66: The Difference between Pointing and Reaching
What your child learns this week
Your Child’s Brain in Week 66
One mom notices that when at a pizza restaurant, her 17-month-old grabs eagerly for her sister’s familiar juice box on the table, but only points to an unusual jar holding pepper flakes next to it, and looks to the mother. What gives?
By now, you’re aware of how your child uses her index finger to point out unusual objects she sees at home and elsewhere and to rely on you as a teaching partner. But what does reaching mean? Does your child simply grab objects within her reach and point for objects out of reach, or does she use pointing and reaching in a different ways?
What the Research Shows
In an experiment with 12- to 18-month-old children, researchers had interesting objects—toy cars, dolls, a telephone, and a musical toy—available for the children to see from a distance. The researchers observed and recorded the pointing and reaching behaviors of the toddlers. They also took note of when each child looked to his mother, seated nearby.
The researchers concluded that when a child between these ages is reaching, he looks to his mother or other “social partner” in order to obtain an object, as if to say, “I want that, get it for me!” When the child is pointing, he looks at Mom to gain her attention so that she can offer information about it, as if to say, “Look at that! What’s that? Tell me about it.”
Interestingly, the research team noted that when reaching (moreso than with pointing), children look to their parent first before impulsively grabbing for an unusual object. The team speculated that when looking at Mom (or whichever grown-up “social partner” is there), the child is calculating: “This object might not be safe. I’d better get her attention and approval before I nab it—I trust she’ll protect me if it’s not OK to touch.” (This harkens back to the skills your toddler developed in week 50 surrounding “social referencing” the idea that your child uses your judgment to guide her actions.)
So back in the pizza parlor, the toddler was comfortable with the juice box, but leery of the pepper flake container—with good reason!
Week 66 Brain Booster
Keep up your responsive stamina, Mom: Do the best you can to be forthcoming when your child points, reaches, and demands to know the “what’s” of the world around her. (The “why?’s come later.)
You may feel exhausted by these second-year behaviors, but know that you’re playing a crucial role in your toddler’s learning. Find a responsive rhythm for the two of you so that your child will see you as someone who will actively—with great interest—support his intellectual curiosity, all while keeping him safe.
Coming soon, look forward to: Week 67: Guessing (and Testing!) How Things Work
Review the most recent accomplishments: Week 65: Why TV Is a Bad Babysitter
Curious about how else your toddler might be developing right now? Learn more about her clever brain and her growing body here:
- What’s happening in Month 16?
- Here’s what our pediatrician says you might be worried about this month.
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