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Toddlers and kids like to watch the same movie over and over again because it’s the only way they can fully understand what’s going on in the movie. Repetition is also found to be one of the best ways for toddlers to learn and acquire new skills. Moreover, they like being able to predict what’s going to happen next and then see their expectations get validated.
I recently spent a few days of a brief vacation at a relative’s place. I had an amazing experience staying there, but the highlight of it all was the 3-year-old boy who roamed all over the house. He was quite the ‘active kid’ and rarely sat in one place for more than a few minutes. Except, that is, when his father played Kung Fu Panda on the TV. Not only did the boy remain ‘stationary’ while watching the movie, but he also seemed completely engrossed. More impressively, he did this every time he watched it!
I didn’t keep a count, but I’d say he must have watched the same movie no less than four times while I was there. He laughed at the same moments every time, and never seemed to get bored. I was admittedly fascinated by his love of that movie and even told his father, “Your son sure does like Kung Fu Panda!”
However, it seems that this is the case with almost every other toddler out there. Kids generally tend to like watching the same stuff, whether it’s a movie or a TV show, again and again without even the slightest dip in interest.
Why do kids do that? And perhaps more importantly, how do they do it?
There are a few hypotheses that explain this rather odd behavior of most children. Let’s take a look…
Kids Learn (better) By Repetition
Just like adults, kids also learn best by repetition, and this is not limited to just watching movies. Children tend to repeat almost everything they see/hear to understand things better.
A study published back in 2011 confirmed that kids learn more when something is read to them over and over again. Led by psychologist Dr Jessica Horst of the University of Sussex, the study comprised a few experiments that were conducted with more than a dozen 3-year-olds.
The research concluded that children who have the same story read to them repeatedly may learn more and better than those who hear a different story every time. Moreover, such repetition of stories is more likely to improve the vocabulary of the children.
Even among adults, repetition is a critical tool to enhance learning; however, since practically everything is new for kids, it takes their little brains more iterations to get a hang of things.
The joy of seeing their predictions get validated
Humans, in general, like to predict things and they feel jubilant when they see their prediction get validated; the same is true for toddlers. Wherever they turn and whatever they do, there’s always such a huge bombardment of new information from every direction that their brains can’t yet process. It’s quite understandable, therefore, that for kids, much of the world around them is unpredictable. Fortunately, when they see the same movie over and over again, they involuntarily predict (in their heads) that a particular event is going to occur. When the movie inevitably validates their prediction, they have ‘fun’.
In a way, you can say that watching the same movie/TV show or reading the same storybook repeatedly helps to develop a child’s ability to think about what’s going to happen next, and then be pleased when their prediction is validated as the movie/story progresses.
Kids don’t understand a movie the first time around
A movie is a smooth assortment of countless things: numerous characters, conversations, emotions, reactions to situations and so on. With all of these things happening on the screen at the same time, it’s very easy for kids to miss out on a lot of things. Needless to say, this hampers their overall understanding of the movie.
Thus, every time they watch a particular movie, they invariably gather something new and absorb a few fresh details from it, which helps them appreciate the movie even more the next time they see it!
Kids aside, even adults watch the same movie numerous times, and in every viewing, they find something they had missed during their previous screenings, don’t they?
There are a few other subjective hypotheses to this phenomenon as well, such as the fact that kids don’t have as strong a sense of time as adults do. They don’t really experience the thought of, “I’ve seen this before and there are other things to do, so let’s move on”. As a result, they stick to watching the same brightly-colored stuff on the TV that makes them cackle over and over again.
Some even say that watching the same movie helps children better understand emotions with cause-and-effect, e.g., “the panda did this activity, and then that happened to him, so this activity must be something good”. This helps children understand their own actions, and introduces them to the idea of consequences. All in all, if your child wants to plop down in front of Frozen for the 139th time, it’s not the worst thing in the world!