“Toddlers absorb almost anything they see and hear—much like a sponge,” explains Jardine Davies Torno, M.D., a diplomate in Psychiatry and a member of the Philippine Psychiatric Association. Children almost automatically imitate whatever adults say and do. Parents should thus be extra careful when in front of their children. Even toddlers can and do understand what is happening around them. And while they may remain quiet, they may already be forming their own interpretations. Dr. Torno adds, “Toddlers also look to grownups for emotional cues or how to respond to novel events.”
According to Anna Vasquez-Genuino, Ph.D., child psychiatrist and consultant at the Makati Medical Center in Makati City, a child learns words and word meanings exponentially during the toddler stage. “So if the parents are using words their child is familiar with, the child may take this in the wrong context,” Dr. Vasquez-Genuino adds. What do toddlers make out from what grownups say and do?
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Here’s a lowdown of common conversation and situations, and how parents can address negative reactions.
Word wars Sometimes, grownups forget that a child is present when in the heat of an argument. “Toddlers are still egocentric and self-centered, and they think everything that happens around them is in reference to them. So if a child witnesses a fight, he would think, ‘Maybe they are fighting or hurting each other because of something I did,’” Dr. Vasquez-Genuino explains.
It is important that parents explain the situation to the child. “Parents need to clarify that the child is not to blame for anything—that the fight has nothing to do with him,” advises Dr. Vasquez-Genuino. He needs reassurance that everything will be okay. “Maybe Mom and Dad can shake hands or hug afterwards to show that they have patched things up,” she suggests. “Show the child na nagkakasundo rin kayo after a fight; let him witness the reconciliation, too.”
Click here to read more about how your toddler interprets your words and actions, depending on the situation.