Teaching Acceptable Limits

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Despite these developmental obstacles, there is hope for parents determined to teach basic dos and don'ts. Studies show that children as young as 12 months start social referencing: They look to their primary caregivers to get information about things they don't understand. Your toddler can learn a lot about what's right or wrong, good or bad, from your reactions to situations, people, and objects.

As they near their second birthday, toddlers begin identifying with others' feelings. "You can use this empathy to explain to a toddler that he shouldn't bite, because it would be an ouch," Dr. Gopnik says.

But just as it takes time for your little one to learn favorite songs, it will be a while before she shows by her deeds that she fully comprehends your lessons. Extraordinary patience is required as you pass along crucial information about what is acceptable.

Is it even worth the effort, then, to start at such a young age? Absolutely, experts say. Just as you begin speaking to your child from infancy, teaching him words that may not be internalized for years, so you must start educating him about avoiding dangerous or annoying activities and practicing social niceties. Just realize that your goal is a long-term one.

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