Cake or broccoli? How to get your toddler to choose broccoli every time

Cake, or broccoli? How to get your toddler to choose broccoli.
Cake, or broccoli? How to get your toddler to choose broccoli.

My son is two, and he speaks well for his age. While it is amazing to have insight into the previously mysterious workings of his mind, I now also find myself debating with a toddler.

I believe in offering my children choices, but often, I provide a bit of a biased array of options. I want to go for a walk, so I ask "Do you want to go to the park now, or later?" or when I want my youngest to take a bath I'll ask "Do you want to bath with fish, or dinosaurs?"

This method works well enough, but sometimes I want to go to the park now, and he chooses later.

So I was excited to read a study by Emily Sumner, a researcher at the Department of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California in Irvine, California, that has inadvertently given parents everywhere the words they need to persuade their toddler to choose a predetermined option.

In scientific terms, the research shows that:

1) toddlers demonstrate a robust verbal recency bias when asked “or” questions in a lab-based task and a naturalistic corpus of caretaker-child speech interactions,
2) the recency bias weakens with age, and
3) the recency bias strengthens as the syllable-length of the choices gets longer.

In short, "these results indicate that children show a different type of response bias than adults, recency instead of primacy. Further, the results may suggest that this bias stems from increased constraints on children’s working memory."

WATCH: Heart-warming moment toddler tries to use sign language to communicate with deaf dad

Additionally, while parents and researchers alike often assume that kids understand everything they say, this study suggests that they're just repeating the most recent thing they've heard, "and do not necessarily indicate that the child comprehends the words they speak."

They warn researchers to be careful of the methods they use when experimenting with kids, and to ensure "methods that require verbal responses should ensure question choices are carefully counterbalanced".

Parents, on the other hand, can greatly benefit from this insight, and by carefully ordering choices or consciously befuddling toddlers, they can get them to choose a predetermined outcome: “Would you like cake or broccoli?” or "Would you like to go to the park later on today when it might be colder, or now?" 

Share with us:

Share your questions or stories with us, and we could publish them. Anonymous contributions are always welcome.

Sign up for Parent24's newsletters.

Read more:

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
7% - 401 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
82% - 4848 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
11% - 670 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.