Let’s play it again! Far from boring, repetition means learning and practising.
From an early age, children enjoy playing the same games over and over again. They also like having the same stories read to them. Children enjoy the repetition and it has a positive impact on their development, as this is an intense learning period for them.
The benefits of repetition for children
Motor skills development
In terms of motor activities, repetition is a way for a toddler to learn and practise new skills. For example, when they repeatedly build a block tower, they are exerting their fine motor skills.
Repetition also allows toddlers to explore their ability to make more and more precise movements. Every time a child throws a ball, claps their hands, rolls on the ground, or makes noise using their mouth, they are repeating an action in a slightly different manner. Additionally, repeating the same actions eventually helps a child learn to walk, run, and ride a bicycle.
Repetition also allows the child to stimulate their memory. As they have not yet developed a very good memory, repetition mostly allows them to remember the things they like. Additionally, continuously singing the same rhymes helps in developing language skills, while redoing the same puzzles allows for learning how to assess sizes and shapes using their eyes and hands.
When they repeat something, the child is proud to be able to predict what is going to happen.
Repetition is also a way for the child to test their understanding of concepts. For example, when throwing food or objects on the floor over and over, the baby is not trying to upset their parents. They actually want to experiment with an entirely new situation. Before 9 or 10 months old, children believe objects disappear when they cannot see them. That’s why they find fascination in dropping an object from their high chair that is then given back to them.
By throwing food or objects on the ground, the baby learns that an object still exists even when they can no longer see it. This game is all the more exciting when they realize that they can drop an object whenever they decide to. They are also learning that certain actions cause a predictable effect: When they drop a toy on the floor, mom or dad gives it back.
What is happening when your child repeats things?
When your child learns something new, they develop new connections in their brain. The more they repeat something, the stronger these connections become. This is why they easily learn and retain words such as milk and bedtime, because they use them every day. However, the word dentist is more difficult to understand and remember, since it is seldom used.
In addition, when they repeat the same game, your child experiences each time as a new opportunity to use their senses. The pleasure they feel during an activity is in part related to the sensations they elicit. For example, they enjoy looking at the colours they organized in their block tower and the trajectory of the blocks crumbling when the tower falls. Similarly, jumping in puddles and scribbling on paper are experienced in a different way each time your child plays, because the sensations they feel are not always the same.
By replaying the same game again and again, the child improves, which allows them to develop self-confidence.
When they gain full control of certain actions, the child usually moves on to a more stimulating activity. However, if you find that your toddler is replaying a game that is much too easy for them, increase the difficulty level to encourage them to improve. For example:
If a puzzle seems too easy for your child, suggest that they do their puzzle with the pieces face down on the table or suggest a puzzle with more pieces.
If they like jumping into leaves from the front, they could try from the back, the side, or jumping with their legs spread.
If they like singing the same song repeatedly, suggest changing the speed (slower or faster) or the volume (higher or lower).
Why does your child want to hear the same story most of the time?
By age 3, your child is anticipating the emotions that they felt in the past when reading a book. Moreover, they truly enjoy reliving these experiences. Reading a story also helps exercise their memory, because they want to know if they can correctly remember the story. So, don’t be surprised when they point out that you dared skip a sentence or page of the book.
Additionally, your child will not necessarily focus on the same elements of the story, meaning each time is a new experience for them to enjoy. You can help by pointing things out and asking them questions about some of the details each time they read. For example, you can draw their attention to the character’s clothes (e.g. “He is wearing heavy boots because it’s cold”) and, during the next reading, to the characters’ emotions (e.g. “It looks like their hands are trembling. Do you think they are afraid?”) or to the shape of objects (e.g. “What shape is the roof of the house?”).
When they eventually get to know the story, your child will often be happy to tell it to you. They are proud to be able to “read” like a grownup. Repeating the rhymes and songs they have learned gives them the same sense of pleasure. When children discover new books and songs that they like, they may develop less of a need to hear the same ones repeatedly.
Not feeling like playing or tired of the same game?
Feeling a bit low on patience today to play the same game over ten times? To avoid tantrums when ending the game, divert your child’s attention, e.g. give them another toy or take them out of their high chair. You can also find ways to establish the time that’s left before a game is finished (e.g. after 5 laps or the length of a song). You could explain to your child that you are tired and would prefer watching them have fun themselves.
Routine: Reassuring repetition
Repeating certain actions on a daily basis also helps reassure your child. Take advantage of this need for repetition by establishing routines at home. They make certain times of the day easier to manage, such as meal times, changing clothes, diaper changing, nap time, bedtime, bathing time, or brushing their teeth. For example, singing your toddler the same song every night comforts them and helps them fall asleep.
For more information, check out our fact sheet Why routines are important for children.
When to seek consultation?
Repetition is normal, desirable, and beneficial to the child’s development and functioning. This repetition also applies to many game contexts. However, if your child repeats only one game, one sentence, or one action (e.g. opening and closing doors) and is uncomfortable with novelty, talk to their physician about how to help them vary their games.
Things to keep in mind
It is normal for your child to enjoy repeatedly playing the same games and having the same story read several times.
Repetition helps your toddler learn and develop skills.
A well-established routine provides reassurance for your child.
Scientific review: Josiane Caron Santha, occupational therapist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: December 2018
Photos: iStock.com/VladartDesign and GettyImages/kate_sept2004