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Toddler Development: Understanding the Toddler Mind

When Gavin was a baby, I read the book “The Science of Parenting” by Margot Sunderland which stated that babies and very young children are incapable of manipulation.  This is because the ability to manipulate requires higher brain function which is very poorly developed in babies and very young children.  What I have always wondered is at what age does sufficient higher brain function kick in?

Based on a couple of responses from Gavin in recent times, my guess is that it has already kicked in…

Recently, Gavin said this to me:

Gavin: Mummy, I’m upset with you.

Me: Why are you upset with me?

Gavin: Because you hurt my feelings.

It so completely bowled me over that I was speechless.

Another evening, the following exchange occurred between my SIL2 and Gavin:

SIL2: Do I love you?

Gavin: No.

SIL2: Why do you think I don’t love you?

Gavin: You don’t listen to me.

I’m a little worried that the latter exchange is indicative of what Gavin believes that we feel about him.  Lately, he’s been playing up so much that I find myself constantly telling him to “cooperate and listen to what we ask him to do”.  Naturally, when he refuses to cooperate and listen I get frustrated and my expression shows it.  After which, Gavin will ask, “Mummy are you happy?”  Several times I’ve been honest and said, “No, because you don’t listen to me.”

In my mind being “happy” and “loving” someone are aren’t necessarily mutually inclusive.  As adults, we all know that you can still love someone and be unhappy with them.  My concern now is that Gavin perceives being happy with someone as loving them.  Therefore if I tell him I am unhappy with him, he takes it to mean that I don’t love him.  This is just my presumption and up until recently, I believed it was just my presumption until I overheard his conversation with my SIL2.

To correct the misconception, I’ve tried to tell Gavin during times of harmony that I love him all the time – even when I’m cross with him.  I don’t know if it works, but I certainly hope so.  At this age, especially when a toddler is capable of talking, it is so important to listen to what he says because I believe it can reveal a lot about what he thinks and believes.  Especially now, during a time when he needs to know that he is loved more than ever.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

2 thoughts on “Toddler Development: Understanding the Toddler Mind

  1. Yes, it does help a lot that he is so articulate. Then again, he also tells us things that are apparently untrue…

    One afternoon, he stayed home with my SIL while I went out to run some errands. When I came home, he said, “Mummy, I cried because I wanted you!” What a way to tug at my heart strings. Then my SIL said, “No he didn’t.”

    Yeah, I love that picture, too. 🙂


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