Your Clever Toddler in Week 79: The Effects of Emotional Eavesdropping
What your child learns this week
Your Child’s Brain in Week 79
Let’s say you and your toddler are visiting your sister, whose son is 2 1/2 years old. He’s about to insert a screwdriver into an electrical outlet when your sister grabs the screwdriver and scolds him profusely: “No! Never put anything into an outlet. It’s dangerous!”
Wow—close call. Your nephew sure received a lot of information from this reprimand. But what did your child, who was only a bystander, experience?
What the Research Shows
Researchers had 18-month-olds sit in their parent’s lap and watch a woman play with a toy. The toddlers displayed interest in the toy by smiling, babbling, or reaching for it.
Suddenly, a second woman entered the scene and angrily reprimanded the grownup for playing with the toy. The toddlers watched both adults carefully during the outburst. Then, in different trials, the reprimander either left the room, turned her back, or stayed in the room facing the children.
The toddlers were then given the chance to play with the toy that the first woman had played with. If the reprimander had left the room or turned her back, the children eagerly played with the toy. But when the reprimander could see them, the children were hesitant even to touch it.
The study indicated that the toddlers did learn a lesson from what the researchers call the “emotional eavesdropping” experience: They adjusted their behavior to avoid provoking the reprimander. They learned not to touch the toy—at least temporarily—to avoid having anger directed toward themselves.
Week 79 Brain Booster
Though we as parents spend so much time later in our children’s lives discouraging eavesdropping, there definitely is a positive side to this activity for your toddler right now. If her older brother pokes the dog with a stick and you stop him from doing so with a strong reprimand in your younger one’s presence, it’s likely that your toddler will learn a valuable lesson: She wants to avoid provoking your anger, and now knows that prodding Muffin will set you off.
While your younger child will be careful to avoid situations that brought her brother harsh reprimands, she’ll also eavesdrop on positive emotional comments you make toward her brother and learn from those, too. Let’s say Older Brother helps set the table; you’re pleased and thank him profusely. Little Sister eavesdropped on this situation, so the next evening she’s eager to help by placing napkins on the table, hoping to receive the same positive emotional response from you.
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