Has your child ever wanted to read the same book over and over or wanted to eat the same food one hundred times in a row, or go to the same place wearing the same thing and do things in the same order that they did the last time you were there?
Have you ever been annoyed by that? As a parent, the repetition can drive us crazy but for the young child, repetition is how they learn best. While older children and adults like and seek novelty, the young child thrives on repetition.
Repetition strengthens the neural pathways in the brain. With repetition, children are encoding information and the young child requires longer for the encoding process as they do not yet have free recall of memory. They literally forget from one moment to the next which is why we have to tell them a thousand times to do something before they remember to do it. While it may look like your child is repeating the same thing over and over, they are actually trying it out in different contexts. It is much like a cut diamond with so many different facets; they will do something and then the context shifts slightly, a different facet, and they do that thing again and the outcome is slightly changed. Children can become very focused in those moments and if you ask them to do something, it may seem like they are not listening or simply ignoring you. This is usually not the case, they are not trying to make us mad on purpose. They become so focused that they move into a place of entrainment, they are one with the process and so to step away in those moments breaks the entrainment and they will have to start over. They are practicing science in those times. But the reality is, because we are human, that can be really annoying. If we have time to wait it out though, when the process is done, children are quite willing to move on to do what they are being asked.
Children are learning so much about their world through repetition. Not only are they gaining self confidence and developing socially, emotionally and physically, they are learning about cause and effect, language development and pattern recognition (which is pre math and reading skills). Our responses to their repetition gives them valuable information on what is ok and what is not ok to do. This is why consistency on our part is so important. Repetition allows them to track patterns in their world which is necessary for reading and math. Repetition shows that they are still learning, that they are still working to gain mastery. Really, it is not much different than practice with a musical instrument.
So, even though it may be driving you crazy, the constant tapping, same book over and over, the same food, the same…(you name it), your children are practicing a skill to gain mastery. And the real gift is that, because they like to do the same thing over and over, you do not have to work so hard to create novel experiences for them. So you can give yourself permission to pull out the same craft project that they did earlier in the week, the same books, take the same walk. This need for repetition gives you, as parents, the opportunity to be easy on yourselves.