Your nine month old wants an electric cord but you distract him with a stuffed animal and he takes the bait. Even at one year of age distraction to another object replaces a desired one. At fifteen months, your methods of distraction to an object you favor over one your child favors may take longer but still works. But by eighteen months your child persists after the TV remote even though you try to distract him with two or even three different fun items. What has happened? Why was it easier to distract your child to a new object at nine months to a year of age but at fifteen to eighteen months your method isn’t working?
The problem is not with your method. The problem is with your child’s development. By eighteen months of age your child has developed the idea of permanence. Permanence is when your child knows the object you are hiding behind your back is still in existence and is the object they want. Before this age your child might “forget” that the remote or the electric wire ever existed once you hid it from them and introduced a new item. This is an important piece of information for parents to understand. Without knowledge of this many parents fall into a trap.
The trap goes like this. We as parents are used to using distraction for over a year to give a child something else rather than something they want. But as a child develops permanence and persists after the hidden remote, parents often continue to try distracting them by offering them bigger and better choices. The offers continue until something that pleases the child is offered. If this pattern continues then a child learns to persist and act out and something good will come their way. Does this trap sound familiar?
If parents of fifteen to eighteen month olds recognize this risk of using distraction, they can avoid this trap and avoid feeling like your child is ruling you by their behavior. If your child starts persisting for an object you don’t want him to have, get that object way out of reach and out of sight. Your child will start acting out in frustration and disappointment. You may try one or two simple attempts at distraction but if they don’t work, stop trying. Allow your child to experience disappointment without a response from you. The child will learn to move past this emotion in a very short time. They will learn that you are in control and they can’t persist in behavior to win something. This age is when children want what they want but can’t have everything they want. Since they have learned about permanence, it is time for them to learn about disappointment.