Twos take another leap in their ability to gain awareness of their world and use mental models to reflect upon it. First is that our Twos are not only able to create a mental picture of the world but are also able to hold that representation of the external world in mind for longer than just the immediate moment and can use it to complete tasks and meet goals. Whitney revealed a strong ability to keep a visual map of where she was and where she needed to go. For example, when asked to go get a ball out in the yard while viewing it from the second floor of our house, she could hold her representation of the house, the front yard and where the ball is in that yard as she navigated downstairs, outside and through the yard to retrieve it. (see “Get Ball” video clips at: www.RaisingWhit.com, 24mths).
The second important milestone is the capacity to rehearse and review one’s own actions– to picture “me” doing things in that external world. Here to is an extended ability to hold that representation in mind longer bringing new levels of awareness and reflection. As mentioned in the previous post, humans unlike any other species have a robust self recognition and ability to picture and supervise themselves performing complex tasks. This type of conscious awareness is unique to humans. Although some primates like apes have a limited form of imitation, none can match our toddlers budding skills at mental rehearsal and accurate reproduction of actions. (see “Imitating Stretching” video from last post)
These two milestones come together to create a powerful new ability to understand and keep in memory “mental models” or scripts that lets a toddler meaningfully explore and categorize the world. They are beginning to master the everyday routines and scripts that compose life from wakeup time and mealtime to bathtime and bedtime. They have a growing understanding of their world, their life and an ability to hold these images and understandings in mind. These multisensory pictures or ideas are the most deliberate and conscious productions of the mind. The ultimate model of models is “me-in-my-enviroment” and our toddlers are starting to perform the mental rehearsal of placing themselves in all these different roles and routines. Now our toddlers can form a mental image of his wants and desires, label it with specific spoken words, communicate or act on it.
The difference from a year ago is that these are now more complex models with beginnings, middles and ends; and she can now move away from having to rely on the primarily behavior based interactions. She can use verbal shortcuts to get she needs met as more words become associated with these mental pictures. The life of action is transitioning to a life of mind. Albeit still isolated islands of ideas without the more coherent worldview an adult carries around that integrates ideas into unified narratives. This is an early phase in the life of mind.
In the second half of the year, our children do begin to build bridges between ideas and construct more coherent narratives and reason logically. Before 3 years, toddlers will start to weave together autobiographical narratives. Narratives go further than just words to describe things. Narratives have a dramatic through line with actors who have desires directed toward goals which take place in a context with a beginning, middle and end. Whitney could now comprehend and make up narratives about her own life. Another aspect is the ability to create larger stories across a broader range of experience. Whitney was now beginning to understand how one event leads to another (if I fall down, I get a booboo on my knee and have to get a bandaide); how ideas operate across time (If I eat my dinner now, I will get dessert later); and how ideas operate across space (Mom is here and dropping me off now and will go away and come back later to pick me up). Ideas can now be used to explain emotions (I feel mad because mom won’t let me do that) and for logical thinking (that is fantasy instead of reality).
From infancy to three, our babies are mastering this critical capacity for broad human awareness and reflective thought. Again, it does not happen automatically and rich experiences in the baby’s real world set a more robust and solid foundation. From birth we can help our babies remain in a calm alert state for full employment of their five senses and the optimal engagement with their surroundings. We can develop a close intimate bond with our baby by interacting with our baby at a slow pace following their lead. We can explore the world with our baby noticing their emotional reactions to things and encouraging back and forth facial expressions and gestures, expressing a broader range of emotions with appropriate natural timing. We can help them exercise their budding mental representations and memories by recounting events and the day before bed and anticipating what is about to happen prior to the day and the events. We can help them construct narratives from their lives by starting a story about your trip to the zoo and letting them fill in and co- construct the story as you both recount it to a sibling or spouse. There is much to do in our role as parent. Two amazing books for much more detail are: Daniel Stern’s Diary of a Baby for a eye opening perspective on how your baby sees the world and Stanley Greenspan’s Building Healthy Minds on what you can do at each age & stage of this development.