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He’s not scatterbrained – he’s 3

Submitted by on Thursday, 26 March 2009 No Comment

Maybe Boots is not just on a mission to explode my head and make Big Guy late for school every morning when he wails “I can’t remember my shoes.”

Turns out he’s not just being whiny or difficult – OK, maybe a little. Mainly, though, he’s being 3, and those creatures are prone to remember things when remembering is important to them.

So says new research out of the University of Colorado at Boulder, where psychologists say their studies show that toddlers don’t plan and recall the past only when they need to.

They listen to you all right, particularly the bad words that slip out when we’re trying to rush out the door. They just don’t get how to use the information later – except for the bad words.

I could have told them about the lack of planning . I sincerely doubt Boots is trying to make my eyes bulge out every time he floods the bathroom. He does it so often I need to check our new insurance policy to see if there’s a co-pay for sprained optic muscles. It’s a happy coincidence for him that he thinks my deranged look is hilarious.

The rest, though, is news to me.

According to a story at livescience.com, the researchers used a computer game involving Blue’s Clues and SpongeBob to test recall.

The children – groups of 3-year-olds and 8-year-olds – were told that Blue likes watermelon and to press the happy face on the computer screen if a watermelon followed Blue. If SpongeBob appeared, they were to press a sad face. Boots would catch that part quickly – he’s used to seeing my sad face every time SpongeBob appears on a screen.

When the psychologists measured the children’s pupils to determine how hard they had to think when the watermelon appeared, they found that the toddlers needed much more mental effort to recall than the 8-year-olds exerted.

Bingo! “I can’t remember my shoes!”

He hears me tell him to put his shoes by the door every time he takes them off. It doesn’t register, though, because he can’t plan for a time when he’ll need them again.

He can’t recall later where he left them – and to tell the truth, I have the same problem with my cell phone – because remembering isn’t important to him. Whether Big Guy gets to school on time is irrelevant in his world, and he kind of likes the way I look with steam pouring out of my ears, too.

Study co-author Yuko Munakata says parents can use to research to come up with new approaches for teaching toddlers. Instead of asking a kid to plan ahead, try to highlight what will happen later.

“Perhaps you could say something like ‘I know you don’t want to take your coat now, but when you’re standing in the yard shivering later, remember that you can get your coat from your bedroom,’ ” Munakata told Live Science.

I bet Munakata doesn’t have children, because that’s way too much talk for a 3-year-old. I would have lost Boots at “standing in the yard.” Big Guy would have been in contrarian mode at “you don’t want to take your coat.” Damn straight, he’d think.

Boots is trying, bless his little heart. He’ll cup his chin with his hand, tap a finger to his cheek and remind himself, “think, think.” It’s a habit he picked up from Walden on “Wow, Wow Wubbzy!” so I guess I’ll have to lay off the TV bashing for a while.

I try to make it easier for Boots with the “shoes by the door” system.  “So we won’t have to look for them later,” I’ll say.

Meanwhile, Boots is thinking, “Later? I’m going to need these again today? Oh, yes, because I’m tired of wet socks every time I flood the toilet.”

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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