Toddler Cognitive Development: Magical thinking and bicycle riding

The Magic Word

The kid is learning to say “please”! I’ve been making a point of prompting him when he asks for things or asks us to do things for him. First I try asking “What do you say?” (なんと言う?, nan to iu? in Japanese) in response to his request. If that fails, I remind him by saying “Please?,” and he repeats Pii? (the L sound is a work in progress, and while word-initial sh sounds are showing up, he has yet to figure out S).

Naturally, he’s caught on that Pii? prompts us to do what he wants (most of the time), and is in the throes of trying to figure out the details of how it works. Of course, there are things that even “please” won’t get him, and he gets upset when he runs up against one of these limits. There are also times when he opens with Pii? but without a clear referent, and we need to figure out what he’s actually asking for. I’m trying to use a lot of Japanese with him, so I’ve been asking 何? (Nani?, literally “What?”) when this happens.

The problem is that he seems to be interpreting that as a prompt rather than a question! He repeats Naani? back to me as if it were another “magic word” in the same vein as “Please.” Sometimes this ends up with him getting frustrated and tearfully going “What? What!?” in Japanese while we try to figure out what it is that he wants.

As long as we’re on the subject of magical thinking, he sometimes exhibits a sort of cargo-cult understanding of our habits. For example, I generally put on a cap or hat before going out. This has led to the kid, when he wants to get out of the apartment and walk around, trying to force the issue by bringing me my cap. It’s very cute, but he doesn’t seem to understand that he’s got the causality backwards.


It’s spring, and the kid is almost two years old already, so we’ve finally gone out and bought him a bike helmet and had a child seat installed on my bicycle. (While we were at it, I had the bike shop give me a thorough tune-up to make sure everything is in top shape.) Things were ready yesterday, he’s been so excited.

He’d been taking notice of bicycles for a while, especially since our apartment complex rounded up all the old ones from the racks that nobody vouched for, and has them all chained up in the back of the parking lot. Anyway, the kid called bicycles Pa for a while. I have no idea why – we didn’t teach him that, at least not on purpose, and it doesn’t sound anything like “bike,” “bicycle,” or 自転車 (jitensha). But recently he’s started saying Bai’, so I’m assuming that they taught him the English word at daycare.

Even before things were ready for him to ride, we took him to the bike shop and let him choose the color of helmet he wanted – he chose red – and since then, that helmet has been his “hat” of choice when we go out for a stroll. (He tends to get bored, take it off, and give it to me to carry partway through… but simply choosing to put it on is dramatic for a boy who generally complains about hats even in the dead of winter!) Needless to say, he was very into things when we took a test ride last night, so much so that we went out for a forty-minute spin after dinner (arriving home, by a stroke of luck, shortly before it began to rain), and he requested more again today! I’m really glad, and looking forward to using it as much as possible, weather permitting.

It’s not a perfect set-up, of course. It’s a front-mounted seat, which allows me to wear a backpack but also forces me to splay out my knees somewhat while pedaling. I’m still getting used to the dramatic shift in balance and the slightly unwieldy steering. Fortunately, the baby seat can be detached smoothly for essentially-normal riding when I’m on my own. Biking with a kid must necessarily be slower and more methodical than biking solo.

But as long as it increases our mobility and he’s having fun riding, it’s all good! And it’s one of those little heart-warming moments that make parenting feel really worth it when he cranes his head back to look up at me and smile. ♡

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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