Somewhere in my career as a parent I read an article about how toddlers have a difficult time making generalizations. Toddlers, for example, will put a blue marble in their mouth. The parent will say something like,
“Honey, please don’t put that in your mouth.”
And, the toddler, theoretically unable to extend the generalization, will put the red marble in their mouth to determine if they receive the same reaction. The parent will thus repeat the recommendation, and the toddler continue this “testing” until they have exhausted all of the marbles, or, more likely, until they have exhausted the parent.
As the mother of three, I can quickly debunk this theory. I have three kinds of children. I have a child like George, who will listen to your recommendation and likely refrain from putting anything else in his mouth ever (including food). I have a child like Gladys, who will find your reactions intriguing and change up the test by “testing” with multiple marbles at once. And, I have a child like Andrew, who will explain that he is merely practicing his oration skills and will convince you to buy more marbles and encourage the others to chew them as well.
They are all perfectly capable of generalizations.
I also know, for example, that as soon as George learned the word “cow” everything with four legs of a similar shape (horses, zebras, even giraffes) became “cow.” And, having been called “Mommy” by enough children who do not belong in my family, I know children are very capable of understanding that “Mommy” can easily be generalized to mean “the woman who is currently in charge.”
In our house, like many houses, we have an “all food in the kitchen” rule. This means that my children are highly discouraged from wandering about with pretzels and bologna and cheese and other things that I might later find behind the piano. (This is not to say that I keep a pristine house, but rather that I have a distaste for cleaning bologna from behind the piano – especially very old bologna).
Sunday evening in our house, like in many houses, we watched the Superbowl. This annual tradition brings with it food outside the kitchen. Yes, indeed, there were chips and dip in the family room.
So, as a parent of three, I am jumping to the conclusion that George’s behavior tonight falls under the category of “mimicking” behavior, and not a lack of listening or ability to generalize. But, just in case,
“No using syrup as a dipping sauce for pretend French toast on the living room couch. Please. Um, especially when left unattended for an embarrassingly long few minutes.”
Thank you. The Mommy.