Emotional and social development between 12 and 24 months of age
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 include:
- 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. However, 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. In an attempt to maintain 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 inpatient, 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.
- 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, and 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 difficult 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.