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From Baby to Big Kid

An e-newsletter that showcases how children learn and grow each month from birth to 3 years. From Baby to Big Kid translates the science of early childhood and offers strategies parents can tailor to their unique family situation and to the needs of their child.
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School Readiness

0-12 Months12-2424-36

Frequently Asked Questions

Click on the links below to read about questions on the topics below that parents have about their baby’s emerging thinking skills from 24-36 months:

When can you start using logic with a child?  I try to explain to my three-year-old the reason why we have certain rules (like no touching the TV) or why we can't go to the park right now, and she will just throw a tantrum.

Between approximately 2 and 3, children begin to understand the logical connection between ideas, which is the reason they start to ask “Why?” about almost everything!  It is a major milestone in their overall development and in their understanding of how the world works. 

However, this stage can also be very confusing and exasperating for parents.  The inconsistency you’ve described in your daughter’s behavior is a perfect example and is due to the fact that 3-year-olds’ grasp of logic is still pretty shaky. One minute they seem very reasonable and wise and the next act totally irrational. This is coupled with the fact that 3-year-olds are still working hard on managing their strong emotions which can interfere with, and often trump, their ability to act as rational beings.

Sometimes my 3-year-old seems to really understand complicated ideas so I don't see why she can't understand (or remember!) the reasons I give her for rules.  When do children really “get” logic?

There are several variables that can strain your child’s ability to accept your logical explanations: being tired or hungry; having eagerly anticipated the thing or activity she is not being allowed to have or do; or being a temperamentally intense, persistent child by nature.

So when you tell your daughter she can’t have cake for lunch because her body needs healthy foods to grow strong, she may quickly comply.  But when you tell her she can’t go to the playground before bed, she might completely lose it. You’re left feeling confused—why is one explanation harder to understand than the other?  The answer is:  It’s not.  It’s just how a three-year-old processes the world.  

Just wait for the déjà vu you’ll feel in 15 years when you try to explain curfews.  Until then, enjoy your passionate three-year-old and rest assured that understanding logical connections and family rules is a skill that gradually unfolds over the next few years.

Why does my toddler ask "why" so many times?  She’ll ask “why do you have to go to work?” and I’ll answer that I work so I can get money to help our family, and then she’ll ask “but why do you have to get money?”

Because between ages 2 and 3, children develop the cognitive ability to make logical connections between things--to understand why things happen. This is a critical skill that helps them gain a much more complex understanding of how the world works.. When they ask, “why?” they are showing a thirst for knowledge.  They want more information. So asking “why” is critical for your child. The more she asks, “why?”, the more she learns. 

The short answer is to try to be patient with your daughter’s many questions. You are  feeding her  natural curiosity and increasing her appetite for learning. You are also helping her better understand the meaning of the words she hears and uses in daily conversations, book sharing, and stories.

As your child gets older, you can also try answering some "why" questions with "What do you think?"  This gets her wheels turning and nurtures her logical thinking and language skills.  Remember to wait patiently for her to think about and share her ideas before rushing in with your “answer.”   It is also important to honor her response, even if it’s not correct, and then share the information you have.  For example, if she says she thinks that the water in the pot is bubbling because you put bubble bath in it, you might say, “Bubble bath does make bubbles in the water in the tub.  But when water bubbles in a pot on the stove like this, it means that it is very, very hot.  We call that boiling.”


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The most important thing about the activities you do with your baby is that they're fun for both of you.  But sometimes these activities can also help babies learn new things.  Are there any games or songs that your baby loves, and that also help him build on his growing thinking skills?  Please share them with us!  We'd love to post a few of our visitor's ideas on this site.


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