How mothers help children learn to use everyday objects

Brianna E. Kaplan, Isabella Kasaba, Jaya Rachwani, Karen E. Adolph, Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children must learn specific motor actions to use everyday objects as their designers intended. However, designed actions are not obvious to children and often are difficult to implement. Children must know what actions to do and how to execute them. Previous work identified a protracted developmental progression in learning designed actions—from nondesigned exploratory actions, to display of the designed action, to successful implementation. Presumably, caregivers can help children to overcome the challenges in discovering and implementing designed actions. Mothers of 12-, 18- to 24-, and 30- to 36-month-olds (N = 74) were asked to teach their children to open containers with twist-off or pull-off lids. Mothers’ manual and verbal input aligned with the developmental progression and with children's actions in the moment, pointing to the role of attuned social information in helping children learn to use objects for activities of daily living. However, mothers sometimes “overhelped” by implementing designed actions for children instead of getting children to do it themselves, highlighting the challenges of teaching novices difficult motor actions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22435
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • affordances
  • cultural artifacts
  • designed actions
  • manual actions
  • social learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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