The Queen & Sir Fairness
This morning, my 2-year-old, Sophie, pitched a fit because I wouldn't give her a pear. I patiently explained that we had no pears -- offered her a banana, an apple, a kiwi -- but nothing else would appease her: "I want a pear!"
If you've ever tried reasoning with a 2-year-old, you know the meaning of futility. Toddlers are wondrously curious and beguiling. They're also irrational, self-centered, and convinced of their own omnipotence. But you can't blame them -- that's just the way their brains are wired. Still in an early stage of cognitive development, toddlers think in fundamentally different ways from older children and adults. Fortunately, understanding how your toddler's mind works can help you to endure, and even to enjoy, the terrible twos. Here, our experts decode some of the more maddening, mystifying toddler tactics -- and offer ways to help you deal.
The Drama Queen
The scene: Your toddler pinches her finger in a toy. You rush over to find a tiny red mark but no broken skin. You offer to kiss her boo-boo, but she wails, "I need a Band-Aid!"
You think: "Get a grip!"
She thinks: "Help! I'm broken! Fix me!"
When an infant plays with her toes or studies her wiggling fingers, she has no idea that these body parts belong to her, notes Tovah Klein, PhD, psychology professor and director of the Toddler Development Center at Barnard College in New York. "But toddlers have figured it out: This is me, this is my body -- and they love their body," she explains.
Toddlers make no distinction between the physical, mental, or emotional "me," so every little nick, real or imagined, is an insult to self. That's why a 2-year-old will sob over every hangnail. "It's as if their whole being has been punctured," says Klein. Band-Aids offer concrete comfort. "They're a tangible way of saying, 'I know that you have been wronged, your body has been wronged, here's something that will make it better.'" Your best bet: Skip the reasoning, stock up on an ample supply of bandages, and take advantage while you can of their miraculous tear-stopping powers.
The scene: Your 2-year-old watches as you deposit two scoopfuls of ice cream into his small plastic bowl, then two equal-size scoops into a larger bowl for his sister. As you place the bowls on the table, he wails, "I didn't get as much!"
You think: "But I gave you both two identical scoops!"
He thinks: "She has more ice cream than me!"
Toddlers can't comprehend that containers of different shapes and sizes can hold equal amounts of stuff. Kids don't develop this cognitive ability, known as "conservation," until age 6 or 7. If you show a younger child two tall glasses filled equally with water and let him watch as you pour one into a shorter, wider glass, he'll invariably say the taller glass has more water. That's why it's pointless to try to convince your toddler that he has the same amount of juice as someone with a taller cup. "To the toddler, bigger is more," says Klein. You'll avoid tears of (perceived) injustice by recognizing that with toddlers, equal servings aren't enough: similar containers are also required.