'Look at me' toddlers eager to collaborate and learn

Parents should think twice before brushing off their child's calls to "look at me!" A Concordia study published in the journal Child Development is the first to show that toddlers' expectations of how their parent will respond to their needs and bids for attention relate to how eager they are to collaborate and learn.

Collaboration in toddlers has been linked to the acquisition of social rules and norms later in childhood.

Understanding what contributes to more can help improve conscience development in children.

Marie-Pierre Gosselin, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at Concordia University and lead author of the study explains that "toddlers whose have consistently responded positively to their attention-seeking expect interactions to be fulfilling. As a result, they're eager to collaborate with their parents' attempts to socialize them."

While scientists and alike have long theorized that toddlers have certain expectations of their parent's behavior, no one had provided a reliable measure of those expectations. By observing the quality of toddlers' attention-seeking, Gosselin and co-author David R. Forman, currently at the State University of New York at Geneseo, were able to quantify toddlers' expectations.

In the first part of the study, parent and child were put in the same room and the parent was asked to fill out a long survey with questions that required attention and focus. This usually provoked attention-seeking behaviors in the child. Some toddlers pointed at and shared objects with their parent, laughed and smiled while talking to the parent, and used phrases like, "excuse me mommy." This constituted high-quality behaviour in the researchers' eyes. Low-quality attention-seeking behaviour was shown by toddlers who cried, screamed, or even took the parent's pen and threw it across the room.

Gosselin says that they expected to find that parents who had been attentive, sensitive and responsive to their child in a variety of contexts would have children who showed more positive, high-quality attention-seeking behaviours than children of less responsive parents because these behaviors reflected the child's expectations of a parent's response.

In the second part of the study, the child had to watch his or her parent perform a series of actions (such as, how to retrieve a ball using three specific movements) and then try to imitate them. Gosselin found that toddlers who showed positive attention-seeking behaviours collaborated more with the parent in this task than those who showed more negative attention-seeking behaviours when the parent was busy.

According to Gosselin, the study shows that it is important to encourage positive or high-quality attention-seeking in toddlers because it predicts their motivation to collaborate and participate in skill building activities.

"For parents it's important to know that it's not the amount of attention seeking but really the quality of attention seeking that their toddler displays that matters for their development," says Gosselin.

Gosselin is now in the process of analyzing data on what happens when the parent is busy on the phone. She says that with the spread of cell phones it is important to see what kind of attention-seeking behaviors children resort to in this situation, how parents respond, and what are the implications for their development. She also plans to look into how seek attention from teachers and day-care workers.

More information: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22288442

Provided by Concordia University

5 /5 (2 votes)

Related Stories

Do toddlers pick up gender roles during play?

Jun 10, 2010

The differences in mothers' and fathers' interactions with their children, particularly in play situations, may influence toddlers' associations of specific behaviors with male and female genders. According to Eric Lindsey ...

Study uncovers clues to young children's aggressive behavior

Oct 26, 2011

Children who are persistently aggressive, defiant, and explosive by the time they're in kindergarten very often have tumultuous relationships with their parents from early on. A new longitudinal study suggests that a cycle ...

Boy toddlers need extra help dealing with negative emotions

Mar 08, 2011

The way you react to your two-year-old's temper tantrums or clinginess may lead to anxiety, withdrawal and behavior problems down the road, and the effect is more pronounced if the child is a boy who often displays such negative ...

Recommended for you

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

Could there be a bright side to depression?

Nov 21, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A group of researchers studying the roots of depression has developed a test that leads them closer to the idea that depression may actually be an adaptation meant to help people cope with ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.