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Sizing Things Up

Cecilia Becker, 2, loves to clomp around the house in her mom's too-big heels. But when she tries to wedge her feet into a pair of tiny baby-doll shoes, playing dress-up gets frustrating fast. I'll say, "You know, those are too small for you,' but I realize it's just not possible for her to understand," says her mom, Elizabeth Cottone, of Charlottesville, VA.

By 2, most kids have a fairly good grasp of such concepts as big, bigger, biggest, and they're pretty good judges of their own size. But they occasionally don't take size into account when they decide what to do with objects, says Judy Deloache, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Your toddler knows she's bigger than a dollhouse rocking chair, but she also knows that it's a chair, so she may try to squeeze into it anyway.

She'll get better at matching her impulses to what she sees, but for now, try these games to help her learn about size and proportion:

Short stacks. Make a tower together by stacking items, like big cans of pasta sauce and tiny containers of pineapple juice, from largest to smallest.

My big family. Print out copies of a family photo scaled to a few different sizes. Then help her point out "small Mommy," "smaller Mommy," and "smallest Mommy."

Empty nesters. Let your child play with your plastic measuring cups or a set of plastic nesting containers.

Play Goldilocks. Give her a few stuffed toys and containers in different sizes, such as a shoe box and a laundry basket. Your child's goal: find the beds that are just right.

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