When my 18-month-old son scrawled on the table with his crayons, I was really shocked. After all, we'd gone through this just three days before when I told him the table wasn't for coloring. We cleaned it together, and I thought that he'd understood. Had he forgotten? Or was he just testing me?
One of the reasons toddlers break rules is because they can be impulsive, but it's also because their memory isn't fully developed yet, says Caroline DiBattisto, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the Georgia Health Sciences University, in Augusta. "Young kids may recall some things but not others -- and it's often random what gets forgotten and what doesn't," Dr. DiBattisto explains. After all, children this age are just beginning to use and understand many words, and people's names, objects, places, and house rules are all made up of words. In order to remember these things, toddlers have to understand the vocabulary you're using, Dr. DiBattisto notes. Once they have a better grasp of the basic language, they'll be better able to follow directions, remember your neighbor down the street, or keep in mind that it's fine to draw on a piece of paper -- but not on the table, the floor, or the walls. Although it takes a while to build cognitive skills, you can help your child's brain neurons forge solid new connections by making an effort to reinforce what he is learning and providing developmentally stimulating activities. Get started with these memory-wise tips.
Say It Again
Yesterday, when your child played with the dog's food, you told her to leave it alone -- so why is she over there splashing in his water bowl? If you feel like a broken record when it comes to explaining things, you're not alone. Toddlers are still trying to make sense out of the world, and your child may be testing her own understanding more than your patience, says Jill Uhlenberg, Ph.D., professor of early childhood education at the University of Northern Iowa, in Cedar Falls. "Your child might honestly be wondering, 'Well, it wasn't okay to play with Sparky's food. Is it okay to splash around in his water bowl?'" So be prepared to reiterate directions often. Just be sure to keep your statements simple ("These bowls are for the dog to eat and drink out of. We play with toys."). The last thing your little one needs is a boatload of extra words clouding things up.
The power of repetition doesn't just apply to learning rules. Doing the same activity builds familiarity for your kid, whether it's helping her master using a spoon by guiding her through the motions at every meal, or recall Grandpa's face by opening a photo album or chatting on Skype every few days. The more your child is exposed to something, the more solid her memories will become.