8 Weird Kid Quirks Explained
Why toddlers run naked, play in dirt, climb into boxes, and more
If I hadn't actually given birth to them, sometimes I'd swear my children were aliens: When one of our kids climbs into an empty grocery bag, or throws a Matchbox car into the toilet, or tears his clothes off and runs through the house shrieking "Naked baby! Naked baby!" my husband and I look at each other and wonder: What on earth possessed them?
A pretty powerful force, actually -- an unstoppable desire to experiment. Kids may sometimes seem like they're from outer space, but they're actually burgeoning scientists. As relative newcomers to the world, they're trying to figure it all out. That's why much of kids' behavior seems inexplicable to us: We're old hands at how the world works, and the wonders have, well, dulled. Take gravity, for example. This is a mind-blowing concept for little kids. Every time a baby throws food off the high-chair tray, she's figuring out that it falls. She'll test this hypothesis on all available samples -- Cheerios, sippy cups, spoons. Her gravitational studies will usually last for about a year; kids who are still throwing food after age 2 are trying to get your goat. Which has its scientific payoffs, too: "If I pour this milk on the floor, a loud sound will come out of Mommy's mouth. Cause and effect!" When you view kids' behavior in the context of a science lab, even the craziest activities make sense. Below, a field guide to their odd experiments -- the maddening and the cute:
Case Study #1: The Cardboard Box
How many times have you witnessed this baffler: The birthday girl tears into a gift -- a bike or kid-size kitchen -- pulls the toy out of the box, and then promptly climbs inside, ignoring the real present altogether. As toddlers, my kids loved to curl up inside paper grocery bags. The reason for both behaviors is the same: Children simply enjoy the sensation of experiencing the world from a safe cocoon. And developmentally, box play helps address a child's fear of being lost: They can "disappear" and then come back. It's like reverse peekaboo; instead of your going away, the child does. To maximize their interest, start "looking" for your toddler next time she's curled up in a box: "Where's my little girl? I can't find her anywhere! She's not behind the curtain! She's not under the table!" In pretending to be lost, she's taking the first steps toward more elaborate forms of play -- an important developmental skill that leads, eventually, to abstract thinking.
Case Study #2: Mountaineering
My 9-month-old nephew, George, loved to climb on top of the dining room table whenever he could make a break for it. This is common in older babies and toddlers, who are constantly honing motor skills like balance, coordination, and reaching. They're proud when they do something that takes hard work, and inspired to try more challenging feats -- much to your frustration. "George would wait for me to turn away, and then up he'd go," says my sister, Lori Renkl, who lives in Homewood, AL. If kids thrive on your attention, why do they invariably wait until Mom's distracted to reach new heights? The answer, again, is that insatiable toddler curiosity, says K. Mark Sossin, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Pace University in New York. As long as he has Mom's attention, he's entertained and content to stay close. "But when his parent is focusing on something else -- answering the phone or another child -- he may turn his attention outward to dangerous places," says Sossin. Of course, he doesn't know what's dangerous, so it's up to parents to encourage exploration in a safe context. Keep a basket of special toys or stuff that's new to him near the phone so you can direct his curiosity in harmless ways -- at least long enough to say, "Can I call you back during naptime?" And when he's got energy to burn, hit a playground or baby gym so he can test his physical prowess under your safe watch.