Why Do Toddlers Like Repetition?

Toddler pouring sand from a cup

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It's bedtime and your toddler pulls "Llama Llama Mess, Mess, Mess" off of their shelf. You've read that book every night for probably the last month, and you'd rather read pretty much anything else. "Let's ready 'Corduroy' tonight instead," you suggest feebly, but your toddler will have none of that. "No Corduroy," they insist, pushing "Llama Llama" into your hands and climbing onto your lap.

Repetitive or cyclical behavior is very normal during toddlerhood. Doing the same thing over and over helps young children learn, and can be helpful for development. Sticking to consistent rituals or asking questions again and again also help toddlers feel secure.

We turned to some experts to learn more about why toddlers like to do the same things (or ask the same questions) again and again, how to respond to repetitive behavior, and if there's ever cause for concern.

Why Do Children Like Repetition?

Children gravitate toward repetition because it is familiar and comforting. Consistent routines help toddlers make sense of the world, and they feel secure when they know what is coming next. For example, a toddler who knows that playtime is always after breakfast can relax and enjoy their meal instead of worrying about what will happen later.

Repetition is also an essential part of learning. "This includes repeating familiar phrases, songs, and rhymes, or reading the same book over and over." says Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD, a pediatrician and medical consultant at Mom Loves Best.

Although it may feel tedious to read the same books, play the same games, and sing the same songs, try to push through because repetition really does help toddlers develop their brains. Research indicates that children are more likely to add new words to their vocabulary when they hear them in the same story multiple times.

Repetition may also be instinctive for many toddlers. "[Children feel] an urge to repeat certain activities or tasks over and over again," says Pamela Green, a Montessori educator and consultant and the owner of Ananda Montessori. "The child repeats until they are complete, and then moves on to what is next in their discovery."

Why Children Engage in Repetitive Play

The day your child figures out how to climb the ladder at the playground, you may notice that they go back to the ladder over and over with intense energy. Or, they might replay the same scene with their dolls, feeding them dinner and putting them to bed. You might also notice that their pretend play mirrors your own daily routines, such as cooking dinner, or that your toddler incorporates phrases you often say.

Children learn in a multitude of ways by playing. "During this focused engagement in repetition, children concentrate only on what they are doing, which leads to a sense of mastery and accomplishment," says Green. "Through the repetition of movement, refinement develops in the child, as well as a strengthening in the body."

Why Children Ask the Same Questions Over and Over

If your child asks "Are we there yet?" a thousand times on every car trip or if you find yourself caught up in the constant escalation of "Why?" know that it's not just your toddler. It's common for young kids to repeat questions.

A child may ask the same question again and again for reassurance and emotional support. "Kids find comfort in repeating questions," notes Dr. Poinsett. "It reduces anxiety and helps them develop trust." They might also be trying to connect by tapping into a strategy that worked previously to engage with you.

How Can I Redirect Repetitive Behavior?

Repetitive behavior is generally not harmful, but let's be honest—it can get difficult to tolerate at times. It's okay to redirect some repetitive behavior if it's really grating on your last nerve. If you just can't read "Llama Llama" again, you may want to try distracting your child and taking a new book to read in a different room. For repeated questions, you can ask your child to tell you what you said before. And it's perfectly fine to say you don't know when faced with a never-ending stream of "Why?"

Moreover, it's okay to take breaks if you find yourself growing frustrated. Consider scheduling time to trade off with a partner or another caregiver, or encouraging some independent play for your little one.

At the same time, if you're feeling a little fed up with repetitive behavior, it can help to remind yourself of why your child may be acting this way and how it is serving them. Repetition is, after all, an important part of learning and development. When we, as adults, feel the need to redirect, we should look at our own judgments, fears, assumptions, or questions around repetition, says Green. "Repetition is is the process of the child and not of the adult," she notes.

When to Contact Your Child's Pediatrician

It's important to keep in mind that repetitive behavior is very typical in toddlers. They may play the same games, sing the same songs, ask the same questions, or insist that you read the same story again and again. Repeating your words back to you is also typical as young children are developing language and social skills.

If your child continues to repeat speech in a very exact and specific way after the age of 3, you might want to reach out to their pediatrician or healthcare provider. This could potentially be part of a developmental disorder such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). "Other behaviors that may be of concern are hand flapping and body rocking," notes Dr. Poinsett. "Also, lining up objects may be concerning if it persists later into childhood." The bottom line is that if you have concerns or doubts, it's always a good idea to check in with your child's pediatrician to be sure.

A Word From Verywell

Repetitive behavior is an important part of toddler development. It can bring them a sense of trust and security, and it supports physical and cognitive learning.

Kids learn through play, which is where you'll often see plenty of repetition. They may also want to hear the same book night after night or play the same game again and again. These things are typical and helpful for your toddler, so it's best to encourage them and follow their lead. However, as always, if you have any concerns, please be sure to reach out to your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Lippold MA, Davis KD, Lawson KM, McHale SM. Day-to-day consistency in positive parent–child interactions and youth well-being. J Child Fam Stud. 2016;25(12):3584-3592. doi: 10.1007/s10826-016-0502-x.

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By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.