Want to get your toddler to do what you want, every time? Science has made a nifty discovery on how easy it is to get stubborn sub-three-year-olds to do exactly what you want, and it’s super simple.
All it involves is giving toddlers two options, and putting the one you want them to choose, last. For example, if you ask a toddler, “Do you want ice-cream or broccoli for dinner?”, they’re more likely to choose broccoli. Really! And the reason why is intriguing.
How to get a toddler to do what you want
The truth is, what your toddler chooses has very little to do with what they want, and more to do with what they hear. A small study has discovered that little sprouts aged three and under usually echo they last choice they heard. So they’ll tend to make that choice, even if it’s not really what they want.
“Adults are able to distinguish between choices and are oftentimes more likely to select the first one. This is called primacy bias,” explains University of California Irvine cognitive science researcher Emily Sumner.
“But kids, particularly toddlers under three, who may not know the language as well, demonstrate a recency bias when responding to questions verbally, meaning the last choice presented is more often selected. This area hasn’t been studied in children before, so this is fascinating to pinpoint.”
The research explained that knowing this valuable tidbit of information could also help parents get a more truthful answer out of their toddler. For instance, if you asked your toddler, “Did you break the toy on accident or on purpose,” they may not actually be telling the truth, without even knowing it. They’re simply mimicking the last choice they heard.
Putting last things first
The researchers asked 24 toddlers aged around two a set of 20 two-choice questions, some involving a polar bear named Rori (see above). The tots could answer either verbally or by pointing at one the stickers. After all 20 questions, the researchers asked the same questions again, but this time flipped the order of the answers around. The majority of the toddlers who spoke their answers picked the second option – it was picked 85 per cent of the time.
“When a child is pointing, they can see the options and choose their actual preference,” explains Ms Sumner. “When they have no visual references and only hear ‘or,’ they’re able to hold onto the most recently mentioned option by depending on the phonological loop.”
The phonological loop is the part of working memory that deals with auditory information and a follow-up experiment indicated preschoolers might have limited use of this system.
So, what do you think Grapeviners? Will you be able to get your toddler to choose broccoli over ice-cream for dinner?
Got your own curious little toddler at home? We’ve tried our best to figure them out in these next articles: