Your Clever Toddler in Week 83: Conflict of Desire
What your child learns this week
Baby’s Brain in Week 83
Until very recently, your toddler simply didn’t understand that you have feelings, interests, and desires that differ from his. The first oatmeal-raisin cookie he ate two months ago was absolutely the yummiest thing anyone had ever eaten; that time you wouldn’t let him take another turn on the swing because you desperately had to find a bathroom … totally unfair!
But once a child turns 18 months or so, a developmental shift occurs in which he realizes that you can desire one thing and he another. Right now, this conflict fascinates him—”But I want to swat at that kitty!”—and so he’ll set out to understand when the two of you are in conflict and when you’re not (often much to your chagrin).
What the Research Shows
In a series of trials, a researcher sat on one side of a table and a 14-month-old sat in his or her parent’s lap on the other side. On the table were two bowls, one full of raw broccoli and the other full of fish-shaped crackers. The researcher offered the bowls to each toddler; the toddlers, of course, chose to eat the fish crackers. The researcher ate the broccoli.
Then the researcher, holding out her hand, said to each child, “Give me some.” What did the children offer? Not the broccoli, which she clearly preferred, but the fish crackers, which they themselves loved. It’s as if child after child thought, “I can’t imagine why you were eating broccoli, but since I love fish crackers, you must, too.”
But when the same experiment was performed with the children at 18 months, the toddlers gave the researcher the broccoli, not the fish crackers. At that age, the children realized that they and the researcher had different likes and dislikes; understanding that concept is a sign that children are developing empathy.
Week 83 Brain Booster
Once your child realizes that you and he can be of different minds, he goes out of his way to see just where you are in conflict. For example, he realizes that you disapprove of him touching the controls on the DVD player, about which he’s highly curious. It fascinates him that you and he can have a conflict over his interest in this flashy device that’s so clearly begging to be poked.
The hard parenting pill to swallow is that your toddler’s need to satisfy his curiosity—which he developed back in week 68—and also understand this conflict of desire between you overrides his interest in pleasing you. Therefore, if you don’t want him to touch the DVD player or your cell phone, you’d better put them out of his reach until this period of fascination about such conflicts between the two of you passes. (When’s that? Depending on the child, about age three. This phenomenon provides a scientific explanation for this period of development’s popular nickname: the “terrible twos.”)
Clearly, parents need skills to manage such conflicts, and they need to learn not to take the conflicts personally. When these spats occur, remember this: It’s not you against him. It’s that your toddler has realized that you two can have different thoughts, feelings, and desires—and he’s out to test each one.
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 20?
- Here’s what our pediatrician says you might be worried about this month.
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