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Your toddler’s understanding of time

Your toddler’s understanding of time

It’s lucky that Baby isn’t the one responsible for making sure the two of you make it out the door on time on any given day – they may have toddled into toddlerhood, but their sense of time is still in its infancy. This means that telling them that something they want is going to happen tomorrow may not go over too well, but it’s also a phase they are already working towards growing out of, and once they learn to read a clock, you may find yourself missing the days when the time was what you said it was – especially bedtime.

What does Baby’s sense of time look like now?

Right now, Baby isn’t quite ready for units of time. Even seconds, which are pretty itty-bitty and non-threatening, as units of time go, are probably out of range for them. What they might be able to start to understand are words that help them put sequences of events in order, like “before,” and “after.”

Baby isn’t ready for units of time yet partially because they doesn’t have any context for what those units might mean. Words that put events into position in time relative to each other, like before and after, help to build that context for later. When they were younger, “before” and “after” might not have been much use to them, but now, they have both the object permanence and the language skills to start to build a picture in their head of the way one event relates to another in a day.

A lack of understanding of time is totally normal for a child Baby’s age, but it does have its pitfalls – specifically, a lack of understanding of time can play into separation anxiety. If Baby doesn’t understand when you’re coming back, being dropped off at daycare can seem like a scary event.

How can I encourage their understanding of time?

Many children start to gain a better understanding of time in general around the time they start kindergarten, partially because of where they are in their development, and partially because of the more predictable structure of their days that school provides. In fact, having a fairly stable routine for Baby’s day can be an important part of helping them figure out their befores and afters, and start to get a sense of units of time relative to the activities in their day.

Other than that, reading stories that use time words can help build an understanding of time, and talking to them about the past and the future in simple, age-appropriate ways can help give them the tools to connect that framework to their life. In the end, though, this lack of understanding of time is temporary, and the most important thing you’ll need to get you and Baby through it is patience.

  • Susan A. Miller, Ellen Booth Church, Carla Poole. ““Ages & Stages: How Children Develop a Sense of Time.” Scholastic. Scholastic, Inc., 2017. Web.
  • Laura Sanders. “In children, a sense of time starts early.” Science News. Society for Science and the Public, July 16 2015. Web.
  • Jennifer Schroff Pendley. “Separation Anxiety.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, October 2016. Web.
  • “Cognitive Development: Two Year Old.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.

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