13 - 15 Months

Making the most of your toddler’s fascination with cause and effect 

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Whether they’re dropping their cup from different heights to see if it makes a different sound or banging their spoon on the table harder and harder to see how you react, your toddler loves to test the relationship between cause and effect 😉

At this age, your child understands that they can make things happen with simple actions: for example, they can make a sound by banging something on the table. They’re also noticing how people react to their actions (“When I clap my hands, Grandpa plays pat-a-cake with me”). 

4 ways to deepen your toddler’s understanding of cause and effect

Respond the same way every time

If you say “Where did Charlie go?” when your toddler covers their face with a washcloth, they may cover it again to see if you’ll say the same thing. When you respond reliably and consistently to these play invitations, your toddler learns more quickly that they have caused an effect on their environment. You may have to repeat it a time or two (or 100 🙃), but repetition is what encourages them to keep experimenting.

Play along with them

When your child experiments with cause and effect, it can feel like they’re trying to test your limits, especially if they’re watching your reaction. Redirecting the game can make it less irritating for you and a more meaningful learning experience for them.

For example, if your toddler bangs on a drum and it’s getting noisy, you can ask for a turn. Tap very quietly on the drum, narrating what you observe: “When we tap the drum lightly, it’s very quiet. When we hit the drum hard, it’s very LOUD!” Demonstrate quiet and loud a few more times by banging together. When it’s time to move on, you can use language to reflect and summarize the experience: “We banged LOUDLY and quietly.” 

Use the word “because”

As you go about your day—dressing your toddler, preparing food, and tidying up—you may see your child watching you intently. When you notice this, tell them what you are doing and why. For example, “I’m cutting this apple into pieces because that will make it easier for you to eat.” They understand so much more than they can say at this age. 

Set up mini-experiments

When playing, encourage your toddler to test objects of different sizes and weights. For example, you might gather a ball, car, bead, and peg for the Slide & Seek Ball Run. Let your child choose which of these to test on the ramp first, next, and so on, since they will learn even more by doing it themselves than watching you. 

Learn more about the research

Bullock, M., Gelman, R., & Baillargeon, R. (1982). The development of causal reasoning. In W. J. Friedman (Ed.), The developmental psychology of time (pp. 209-254). New York: Academic Press.

Saxe, R., Tzelnic, T., & Carey, S. (2007). Knowing who dunnit: Infants identify the causal agent in an unseen causal interaction. Developmental Psychology, 43(1), 149–158.

Sobel, D. M., & Kirkham, N. Z. (2006). Blickets and babies: The development of causal reasoning in toddlers and infants. Developmental Psychology, 42(6), 1103–1115.

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Posted in: 13 - 15 Months, 16 - 18 Months, 19 - 21 Months, 22 - 24 Months, Cause and Effect, Cognitive Development, Lovevery App, Parenting, Child Development

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