The Lack of Conservation Trick

The Lack of Conservation Trick

One of the limitations on the mind of a young child is “lack of conservation.”  A preschooler is unable to conserve matter as it goes through superficial changes in shape.  So, for instance, if you take a ball of clay and roll it into a long, thin strip, the child will say, “Now we have more clay!”

Of course, this limitation will soon be eliminated as the child’s cognitive development proceeds.  But in the meantime, as a parent, you might find it useful in certain situations.

Let’s say you have a four-year-old and a two-year-old.  It’s snack time, so you give them each some M&Ms.  You’re a nice person, so you give them each an equal amount.  The four-year-old proceeds to have a hissy fit.  “I’m older!  I’m bigger!  I should have more!”

Well, you don’t have any more M&Ms, you don’t want to take any away from the two-year-old, and you don’t feel like getting into a power struggle with the four-year-old.  So what can you do?

Lay out the M&Ms in two rows like this:

.     .     .     .     .

.     .     .     .     .

Say to the four-year-old, “I gave you both the same amount.  But you’re older, you’re bigger, so you should have more.  Okay.”  Then pick up his row and lay it out again like this:

.          .          .          .         .

Say, “There you go!”  He will scoop up his row and walk away very happy and proud that he now has more than his brother.

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project.  He may be contacted via e-mail at