These days, you might feel like you're running an obstacle course every hour without ever leaving the house. But what looks like another disaster in the kitchen -- a muffin pan filled with Duplo pieces and a stuffed animal tucked into your mixing bowl -- is actually delightful developmental progress: Your 2-year-old is making the leap from "a life of action" to "a life of the mind," says Stanley Greenspan, MD, author of Building Healthy Minds (Da Capo Press).
What are the signs that your child's "life of the mind" is taking shape? For a start, after his second birthday you may notice a marked increase in what psychologists call selective, or focal, attention -- the ability to switch off outside distractions and concentrate on one thing at a time. By 25 months, most children can focus on a single activity continually for a few minutes, and for an even longer time if an adult is engaged in that activity with them. "Children this age are also capable of some abstract thinking," notes Sharen Hausmann, director of Smart Start Georgia, an agency working to improve the quality of care for young children. "If you give them a toy truck, they'll understand that they can turn the wheels and the truck will go."
Although some abstract concepts like "nice," or "heavy," may be too much for children this age to grasp, Hausmann adds, "they can match objects with pictures and sort things by shapes or colors." Your child can identify circles, squares, and triangles now, so simple puzzles are more fun to put together. In some ways, in fact, the world is one big puzzle that your child is trying to understand -- a process that sometimes requires taking things apart just so he can put them back together again.
Kids this age are also starting to make sense of number concepts; for instance, if you ask your 2-year-old if she wants one cookie or two, you can bet she'll say "two!"Understanding Cause and Effect
Further evidence that your child is growing smarter: Her grasp of cause and effect grows ever more sophisticated. As a baby, she quickly noticed that crying from her crib produced results. This taught her that she had some control over her environment, because crying brought about a desirable effect: You came into her room and picked her up or fed her.
Now she also notices that this activity causes the lights to turn on when you come into her room -- but only sometimes. Why only sometimes? Is it her crying that turns on the lights? Is it you? Or is it just the sun coming up in her room? As her attention span and her powers of observation grow, your child eventually sees you turn on the light switch to produce that effect, and understands the connection.