When my little one hit the tender age of four months, I began to notice a fascinating pattern – he had a penchant for repeating the same activities over and over again. Be it reaching out for the toys dangling from his crib or watching his favorite YouTube videos on a loop, this penchant for repetition has stuck with him, even as he recently turned five.
During the past summer, there was a phase where his absolute favorite was a video showcasing tractors and farm equipment. I must admit, the constant background music began to grate on my nerves, but my little one’s unbridled enthusiasm for the video was unwavering. As a parent, it’s easy to find these repeated behaviors somewhat trying, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Experts in childhood development assert that repetition serves a crucial function in the learning and mastery processes for children. “Small children are truly the most persistent humans,” remarks one expert, emphasizing that their innate drive to master the world around them is expressed through repetition.
There’s also a neurological underpinning to this phenomenon. Learning necessitates the formation of neural circuits, and repetition facilitates this intricate process. Charles Nelson, a neuroscientist from Harvard, elucidates, “Brain wiring is made possible by repetition. If you have a whole group of neurons that have to start to develop into a circuit, they need to be fired over and over. Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
During a child’s early years, the brain experiences a surplus of synapses, the connections between neurons. This overproduction of synapses occurs from the late prenatal weeks through the first few years of a child’s life. This abundance allows for immense plasticity, enabling children to learn and develop new skills. Through experience and repetition, new neural circuits are established, and excess, unused synapses are pruned away.
“What’s special about those first few years is it’s taking advantage of this immense plasticity because of this overabundance of synapses,” explains Nelson. This plasticity enables children to learn, develop, and establish neural pathways crucial for their growth and understanding of the world.
“We have this phrase in our culture – practice makes perfect, but when it comes to brain development, practice makes permanent,” adds another expert in childhood development. Children, in their explorative nature, are akin to little scientists, continuously testing and retesting to decipher the rules governing the world around them.
Consider a common scenario – a child throwing food off a highchair, followed by the dog eagerly snatching it up. “It’s this wonderful, satisfying game until the baby runs out of cheese and then throws the spoon off the side,” illustrates an expert – That’s how the baby learns that the spoon scares the dog away.
“All of a sudden the game has changed and they really learn about cause and effect, understanding how their actions influence the world around them.”
As children engage in repetitive behaviors, they also find comfort in being able to predict outcomes. “There’s something so nurturing when you can anticipate exactly what will happen in a routine or in a story,” notes an expert.
This predictability is particularly evident in our nightly routine with my son, which involves watching the same video featuring various types of trains and vehicles. I often intentionally guess the train type wrong, allowing him to correct me – a routine that may seem repetitive to an outsider but has imparted valuable lessons about different vehicles and their roles.
These nightly routines served as educational tools, offering insights into various types of trains, trucks, and their roles in shaping the urban environment. Furthermore, they provided a comforting and secure end to the day, as our son would eventually drift off to sleep with his head resting in my lap.
So, for parents grappling with the seemingly endless loops of repeated jokes, games, or stories, it’s essential to understand that these actions are vital for your child’s development. They’re not just engaging in monotonous activities – they’re diligently practicing and mastering newfound knowledge and skills, simultaneously constructing the intricate architecture of their growing brains in the process. Embrace the journey, for it’s a pivotal aspect of their developmental voyage.