Self control at 16 months

My 16 month old granddaughter Ayla sits next to me. She looks at my coffee mug with interest, then looks up at me. She is checking for permission.

I just shake my head. I don’t say a word.

She responds almost immediately by turning her gaze away from the mug onto something else nearby of interest to her.  Deal done. Problem solved. Moving on.

We communicated clearly. She cooperated with me and practiced self control for social purposes. All in three seconds. All without words. But make no mistake, this is critically important practice.

Parents talk too much.

I could have accompanied my headshake with a verbal explanation: “That’s coffee sweetie. Coffee’s not good for kids….” I could have communicated more with words. But that more would have been less.

With all the talking, the exchange between us is complicated by her need to understand the language. And that cognitive demand would likely have made the main task of self-control less clear and more difficult to complete.

Talk less so they learn to navigate better

Much more importantly, most of the signals we get in everyday life indicating the need to exercise self-control are non-verbal. Savvy kiddos read the non-verbal cues all around them – “the vibes” we used to say – and use self control to navigate successfully long before words are spoken.

So if I want to help my little peanut Ayla become an expert social navigator, I will help her learn to regulate before the words are voiced!

To read more about the developmental importance of self control or response inhibition, check out an earlier post.