It has been proven, by a study carried out in Canada, that children can understand the concept of irony by the age of four - even if they don't know the word and probably struggle to say it! Previously it had been suggested that the children needed to be aged ten before they could understand the idea of sarcasm and irony but this new study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology contradicts this.
The study looked at different types of language that is described as "non-literal". Here are a few examples:
The researchers at Montreal University studied 39 children in a home environment and found that irony was understood by children aged 4 and that by the age of 6 the children had a complete grasp of non-literal language. Previous studies had focused primarily on sarcasm, and had been carried out in a test environment rather than a home environment so this partly explains why the findings were different to other tests.
Sometimes, our use of everyday language can be very confusing to toddlers who are still picking up the nuances of our language. How often have you asked 'Would you like to pick up your toys?' or 'Shall we go for a walk?', when actually what you mean is 'Pick up your toys!' or 'We're going for a walk!'. As toddlers learn language, they will interpret your rhetorical question as a literal one, so don't be surprised if they reply 'No!'. Try to avoid rhetorical questions - tell your toddlers affirmatively what it is that they are going to do, and you will avoid confusing them!
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