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Do toddlers have a conscience?
Q: Dr. Condrell responded to a question about toddlers as follows: "Sometimes parents expect too much from toddlers. They forget that toddlers have little, if any, self-discipline. Pleasure is their main desire, and they have no conscience."

I have to disagree. I have a 2-year-old son who definitely feels bad when he does something he isn't supposed to do. He says "sorry," unsolicited. I do not yell...or hit. I tell him the consequences of his actions: "If you eat the play dough, mummy will take it away." And if he does eat it, I take it away. He cries and says he wants it back. I ask him why I took it away and he says, "I eat it," with a guilty look.

Can you give more information about the development of conscience in toddlers?
Sharon Athens
A: Yes, I can. I can see why you are feeling confused by my statements on 2-year-olds. What you are seeing in your son is the beginning of a conscience: he can interpret your mood and since he wants to please you, he can feel sorry. But your son does not have a fully developed conscience with which he can weigh right from wrong when you are out of sight and decide what is best to do. And most of the time, he will not feel guilty unless there is an adult present who is gently scolding or saying, “no.” It is important for you to recognize that even when a child behaves like your son is behaving, they have a very hard time not giving into temptations that are pleasurable. I hope this helps.
Kenneth N. Condrell Ph.D Child Psychologist