Mother tongue web banner

Apparently toddlers pick the last option you give them, so word your questions wisely!

Kinderling News & Features

Wish your young kids would make better choices? A recent paper published in the PLOS ONE journal says that all it could take is some carefully worded questions from parents.

Wait, what?

A lot of parents get excited by the development of their child's language skills. They want to prompt them to make choices and grow the bank of words they know, however new research suggests that perhaps newly-verbal kids aren't quite as capable at comprehending our questions as we give them credit for. If you give a child a choice to make - i.e. cake or broccoli - the study suggests they will simply echo the last choice you gave them, rather than saying what they actually desire.

Why? They might struggle to keep the first option in mind when replying, so they say whatever they can recall easiest.

Just watch this child choose the latter option three times in a row during an analysis:

The good and the bad

Researchers have termed this verbal recency bias, and they point out that it's a quirk that parents should keep in mind when talking to their little ones.

Indeed, it's an idea that could be used to a parent's advantage when you're trying to do something like encourage your kid to make healthy food choices. However, it's not always a positive.

We need to be mindful of how kids respond to questions like, "Did you hit your sister on purpose or by accident?" They might not truly understand what you're asking - and apparently the longer the second option is, the more likely they are to just say that.

Test it out!

Some parents have joked about how they could make the most of this period in their toddler's development:

"Would you like to jump on the bed all night, or go to sleep?"

"Do you want to chuck a tantrum in the supermarket, or would you like mummy to be happy?"

"Would you like to spend an hour finding your shoes, or would you like to go to Nana's now?"

Ultimately it's a stage that doesn't last forever ... so make the most of this information while you can!