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How to Understand your Toddler

imageI took a big step towards understanding toddler psychology today – which you would think would be very useful to a man with a two and a half year old.

And before you think you’ve come to the wrong blog, let me reassure you of two things:


  1. What I learned offers real insights for managers, trainers, change agents and project leaders
  2. The practical application to toddler management – like all other theories – is pretty well nil

Like all good models, this one has explanatory power

The first criterion for a good model is that it must describe real world events.  In so doing, most models therefore help us to understand – and even explain – those events.  So it is with our model:

Icek Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behaviour

imageIcek Ajzen is Professor of Psychology at The University of Massachusetts. His research interests include how we form attitudes, how they affect our behaviour, the relation between knowledge, intentions and behaviour, and habitual versus reasoned action.


Ajzen is, perhaps, best known for his theory of planned behaviour.  It was in refreshing my knowledge of this theory that I had my insight.


The Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) suggests that our behaviour is driven by ‘behavioural intentions’.  These intentions are, themselves, determined by three things:

  1. Our attitude towards the behaviour
    That is, some sum of what we believe to be each of the likely consequences of that behaviour, modified by our beliefs about how likely they are (their expectancy).
    This links to Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory.  This is the section in the free extract you can view on the Management Models Pocketbook page, by clicking on ‘view extract’.
  2. Our subjective assessment of societal norms about the behaviour
    Based on an aggregate of all our beliefs about how society works
  3. Our perceptions of factors that might control our behaviour
    Note that there may indeed be real factors that do control our behaviour, leading to the dotted line in the figure above.

Uses of the TPB Model

This model is used by professional influencers, like the advertising industry.  It explains, for example, why information alone rarely results in behaviour change – Ajzen found it not to be a major factor in driving intention.  It is also valuable to change agents, who want to influence behavioural change.

Application to Toddlers

At a fairly young age, I observe that toddlers do start to plan their behaviour.  But the problem is that they are only poorly able to foresee possible consequences, they have little knowledge of societal norms (which were largely suspended when the toddler was a baby) and therefore it is only their perceptions about how their behaviour might be controlled that might check that behaviour.  But these are often fairly limited.

So here’s the deal

Therefore, only real behavioural control will alter a toddler’s behaviour, since toddlers are wired to explore the boundaries of their independence.

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