Shock news from the world of academic research that young children can tell when adults fake being upset.
A study by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology concludes that three-year-olds can evaluate the authenticity of other people's agitated reactions to a particular incident.
I may have observed too many weans in supermarkets or watched too many episodes of Supernanny. But I knew before the Planck people told me that babies come into this world already equipped with a full working knowledge of the use of distress as a control mechanism.
Babies spend the first year not saying a word because they are busy monitoring their parents' behavioural patterns. Their first words could well be: "I note that father has no real grasp of hierarchical structures while mother has difficulties coping with disruptive developmental trajectories." But that would give the game away so baby just says mama and dada. Using the basic tools of tears and tantrums, toddlers start as they mean to go on with the task of training parents.
Food is fertile soil for exploiting parental insecurity. Spitting out the first mouthful of Heinz fig puree and custard is an excellent opening gambit. Overeating and projectile vomiting is a useful alternative. (In later years, insisting on being breastfed through the school railings is an ideal way of keeping mother in her place.)
Children can use all sorts of terror tactics to subjugate mum and dad who will put it down to the "Terrible Twos" stage of development. Some parents will allow this state of affairs to continue for many years. Some will rebel and insist on an end to distress as a means to sustain despotism.
Other tactics are then required such as lavishing affection on parents. Use such phrases as "Daddy, I love you. Can I have an Xbox?"
A skill in developing psychosomatic ailments can come in handy, especially in the school years.
The good news for parents is that before you know it the children will have become teenagers. At this point they will have realised that mum and dad know nothing, are a perpetual embarrassment, and hardly worth the effort of subjugating.
They will grow up to have children of their own. The thing is that by then they will seem to have forgotten all they knew about babies and control mechanisms.
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