Last week I took my kids to an inflatables center to burn of some afternoon steam. While my toddler jumped inside one of the bounce houses, I stood outside the door, which had a large sign that read “Five and Under ONLY.”
Before long another child joined her, one who looked suspiciously of the 6-and-above set. I said nothing.
Moments later a boy, probably age 9 or 10, said loudly to his mother, “But you can’t let her in that one, Mom! It says 5 and under!” The mother, unaware that I was watching, promptly placed her hand over her child’s mouth to quiet him down.
She’d been labeled as an inflatables center outlaw (and by her own child!). Ouch.
Since then I’ve thought about that encounter several times. Sure, the woman’s behavior struck me as odd, but is there any worse feeling than being reprimanded by one’s offspring?
Today I read that children as young as 2 not only have an understanding of social norms— the often unspoken rules by which a group operates— they object when these rules are broken.
In the current edition of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a write-up of a study suggests that toddlers are keen observers of social norms and when they’re violated.
Think about it: the last time you swore in front of your toddler, did she call you out? (Tell me I’m not the only one.) Or when you let them have two helpings of dessert so you could have a moment’s peace, did they rat you out to Daddy the next time you told them to clean up their toys? (Again, can I get an amen?) It’s as if there’s a 10 Commandments of Toddler Parenting floating around that I’m not aware of.
Thou shalt not call the woman in the next lane the B word when she cuts you off.
Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s waistline.
In my experience, at least, toddlers are quite rigid in their thinking. They’re developmentally in a place of trying to make sense of the world around them. When someone’s behavior falls out of line of what they’d anticipated, they’re bound to object.
Understanding that their often moralistic behavior is just another piece of the developmental puzzle helps me understand my child a little better. Maybe (just maybe!) the next time she tattles on me to Daddy I’ll cut her some slack.
But only if she lets me have a bite of that dessert.
Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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