Topic Overview

Toddlers form strong emotional attachments and often feel uneasy when they are
separated from their loved ones. Around the same time, toddlers typically want
to do things on their own or according to their own wishes. This sets the stage
for conflict, confusion, and occasional breakdowns.

Toddlers typically develop two conflicting feelings: wanting both independence
and reassurance from their parents. Although their emotions change often,
toddlers’ personalities and
temperament are becoming more defined.

Young children between 12 and 24 months of age experience many
emotions as they learn to explore their world. When parents respond to
emotional needs with a loving, consistent, and understanding attitude, their
children develop confidence and a sense of security.

Common emotional and social developmental issues for toddlers

  • Problems controlling feelings. Your toddler’s
    emerging sense of self and internal conflicts often causes irrational, extreme,
    and abruptly changing emotions. Typically, toddlers want to master skills and
    tasks independently and believe that what they want to happen should happen.
    But what they want to happen can change from one moment to the next.
    Toddlers often perceive themselves as the director of their own lives and you
    in a supporting role. Of course, they remain dependent on you. To try to
    keep in control, they assert themselves in defining how and when your services
    are needed. For example, your child may want to eat with a spoon by himself or
    herself and become angry when you try to give instruction. Moments later, he or
    she may ask-or command-you to help. If something does not happen as a toddler
    thinks that it “should,” he or she can become impatient, easily frustrated, and
    unable to control his or her feelings. Consequently, toddlers are known to
    dissolve into tears, fuss, whine, or throw fits over simple matters.
  • Separation protest. During their second year, many
    toddlers experience separation protest (also called separation anxiety), because
    they are able to remember you after you have left but don’t understand that you
    will come back. Separation protest may become intense at day care, for example,
    because the toddler anticipates that you are going to leave and fears being
    deserted. These feelings are normal and usually peak at about 10 months. As the
    brain matures, toddlers become better equipped to handle these transitions more
    gracefully. Older toddlers usually understand that you always come back, even
    when you’re gone for a whole day. Separation protest may also be the
    cause of bedtime problems. You can help your child learn permanence (and that
    you will come back after leaving for a bit) by playing games such as peekaboo.
    You can also place toys under blankets to “hide” them while your child watches
    and then “find” them together.
  • Self-comforting behaviors. Your toddler may use a
    cuddly object, a blanket, a stuffed toy, a piece of a parent’s clothing, or
    another treasured object for comfort during times of stress or to relax. The
    attachment toddlers form with these objects helps calm and soothe them. Most
    children discard these objects in time.
  • Problems with sharing. Between 12 and 24 months, children start to understand that they are individuals and independent from everyone else. Sharing may threaten or interfere with their sense of independence. You may hear “mine” and “no” quite
    often when you try to help your child to share. Do not give up. Keep
    stressing the importance of sharing. Also, it may help to have your child
    select a toy to put away while other children are around. This allows him or
    her to feel more in control. Be patient. Your “mini tyrant” will soon be more
    responsive to sharing with others.
  • An awareness of others’ emotions. When parents
    encourage and model an awareness for other people’s feelings, toddlers begin to
    be able to recognize examples of kindness, cooperation, and sympathy that will
    help them develop these social behaviors themselves. Providing positive
    feedback and reinforcement will also help toddlers understand when they have
    behaved well. Toddlers also learn to read others’ emotions and feelings. They
    know when parents feel angry, sad, or happy. It is often hard for toddlers
    to work with this newfound ability. For example, they may recognize that their
    parents are not happy when they misbehave, but they often don’t know what to do
    about it.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD – Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Louis Pellegrino, MD – Developmental Pediatrics

Current as ofMay 4, 2017