Toddlers not only can comprehend not only what is “right” from what is “wrong,” but they’re also able to understand that a set of rules can apply to one group of people and not another, according to new research at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. In one study, 2 and 3-year-old children were able to identify rule violations amongst puppets in a puppet show, specifically regarding behavior.
Another study found that toddlers only enforce game rules within their own language group. The results of the research suggest that these children understand that the expectations of cultural norms are different amongst different groups. Additionally, the study found that toddlers don’t need explicit instructions in order to understand that a specific action is a social norm. Instead, they can intuitively pick up on behavioral cues and adults’ expectations of them.
So what does this all mean? Well, toddlers are apparently much more socially sophisticated than we’d previously believed. Not only do they know how to act, but they’re able to apply that behavior to appropriate contexts and social groups. So when your kid is doing something shitty, like throwing food on the floor or refusing to keep his shoes on in public, it’s not because he doesn’t know any better — it’s because he’s a jerk.
I’ve said it over and over: kids make our lives hell, if we’re unlucky enough to be around them, because they can, and because they have fun knowing they’re doing it. Vindication is sweet.