Your Child's Brain in Week 87
Remember when you wondered if your child would ever leave your side? As she clung to you when you dropped her off with a babysitter or playgroup (wow, was the onset of separation anxiety powerful!), you probably couldn't envision that she would one day feel comfortable far away from you.
Now, if you visit a playground, your toddler is most likely eager to explore the environment on her own. Sure, she'll occasionally glance over at you as you sit on a nearby bench, or she might return for a quick hug, but then she's glad to wander off again.
We're guessing this safe exploration at a controlled distance is fine by you. But if you ever wonder, "How far would she go, knowing I'm still here?" you're starting to think like a scientist.
What the Research Shows
In a classic study, a British investigator recorded toddlers' behavior as they moved about a London park. The mothers remained seated on a bench or on the grass, away from the children, and the researcher measured how far the toddlers would stray from them.
With few exceptions, the toddlers not only seemed to determine their own boundaries–that is, they remained within a central area without the mothers' prompting—but that perimeter was consistently within 200 feet of their moms.
Why 200 feet? Researchers believe that this is the distance from their parent at which toddlers feel comfortable autonomously exploring and playing somewhere without set boundaries. They're still within earshot of and visible to the person whose glances they trust who would undoubtedly retrieve them if they encountered peril.
Week 87 Brain Booster
Know this, Mom: Though your child is growing more independent every day, you still serve as the center for her activities as she organizes her comings and goings, both indoors and out. Your toddler tethers herself between you and the world beyond the two of you, whether you're at home or in the park…or at the mall or at Grandma's. No matter where you two go, your toddler will maintain the same pattern: She'll stay close by you at first, wander off later up to about 200 feet, and then return again for a dose of engagement, approval, and emotional energy. Even when she's feeling brave enough to wander, your toddler is keeping track of your whereabouts through quick visual checks and by pointing at interesting sights to gain your attention ("Lookey, Mommy!").
If one of those sights is dangerous, such as a moving bicycle, you know to move in and pick her up: At this age your toddler's self-protection skills are limited and she trusts that you'll keep her out of danger. While toddlers are equipped to be fearful of darkness, sudden loud noises, strange animals, and being alone, they don't have protective instincts against cars, bicycles, swings, and the like. (Also, situational nuances are lost on toddlers: They don't know the difference between a park and a parking lot, though they have the urge to explore both. It's up to you to determine what you allow! )
What is your role as your child begins to test the boundaries of her physical proximity to you? Let her be, within reason. (You might remember this advice from week 84.) Don't interfere with her exploration or follow her around. Instead, simply be available to swoop in instantly when you're needed.