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Researchers have discovered that toddlers understand the
effect their tantrums have on adults. They are aware that they can change the
volume of sounds they make to invoke various responses.
A study published in the Journal of Cognition and
Development examines children's ability to recognize and process different
sounds. It focuses on kids at toddler age, entering their "terrible twos."
"Scientists know a lot about visual perspective-taking, and
children's understanding of what we are seeing. But we know very little about
how children know what we are hearing," said co-author Andrew Meltzoff,
co-director of the University of Washington's Institute for Learning &
Brain Sciences (I-LABS).
The "terrible twos" happen when children are at a stage of
development between not wanting to rely on their parents so much but also not
yet being old enough to be independent. They wish to move faster and
communicate better, but they are not mature enough to do so. Their frustration
manifests itself with notorious temper tantrums and lots of no's in their
It was previously believed that children were too young to
understand sounds and their meaning, leading to never-ending screaming sessions,
but this new study proves that is not the case.
"What we think is happening is that by age 2, kids have
already learned from their own experiences about sound. Or, in the case of
kids who have siblings, probably their siblings have taught them a thing or two
about loud and soft sounds," Williamson said.
Toddlers can understand how their behavior influences
others, especially their parents, and they use that knowledge to their
advantage. Because of this understanding, parents should not feel that it's
impossible to get their children to stop yelling.
"It's developmentally appropriate to talk to 2-year-olds
about hearing and ask them to be quiet. It's not out of their grasp to
understand this," said lead author Rebecca Williamson of Georgia State
University. "Whether a toddler chooses to be quiet is different."