Emotional Development in one to two year olds

Kylee Hooper

Posted on April 10 2021

Let’s look at Toddler Emotional Development in ages one to two year olds. 

Between the ages of one to two years old there are a lot of changes as your child moves away from babyhood to being a toddler. Your child will want to to explore their surroundings as this is their safe space to learn new skills.

There are new things to learn like beginning to walk and developing speech and language. They are also learning how to deal with lots of different emotions. Children take their lead from parents and carers as their main role models. 

Children will continue to return to you for reassurance that things are ok. This is all part of your child’s rapid brain development. Whether things go well or not they need you to help them feel safe and secure. Use a soothing and calm tone of voice and give gentle reassurance that all is ok if they seem worried. Show your pride and excitement when they try new things and manage new skills.

Help your child begin to understand their feelings. Talk about how you think they are feeling; “I can see you’re feeling sad” “Wow, you’re happy today!”

Start with simple emotions such as happy, sad and angry. In time this will give your child words to express how they are feeling. This will help them explain their feelings more easily. It can feel a bit scary to have big feelings when you are little – by talking about them from early on they can learn it is ok to feel like this.

I have done the above, along with used the emotion activities in the Busy Book, with my two toddlers who are now nearly 2 and nearly 3 years old. They are now both able to tell me what emotions they are feeling and they often come to me and tell me without me asking. I love that they can recognize their feelings and that they feel happy and comfortable to share that with me, especially my nearly two year old who has been doing this from 21 months old. 

Other strategies you can use are:

Praising your toddler when they have done something right. This is  more effective than telling them off for doing something wrong like ‘you are being very gentle with the cat today – that is very kind’.

Talk to your child about what you are doing, feeling and seeing. This helps develops their own understanding of emotions

Routines like bedtime and meal times help to give the day structure. This helps your child knows what is happening next and what to expect, making them feel safe and secure

Preparing for change (transitions) is really important for a toddler. They need ‘warning’ of going between activities as it takes them longer to process this change. For example 'In 5 minutes we’ll be having lunch. Then we’ll play with your bricks again' helps your toddler to know what’s coming next. They don’t have to panic that they will never play with their bricks again! This makes it a lot easier moving from one activity to another such as leaving play groups or family and friends houses.

At the age of 1-2 your child’s brain is developing more understanding and thinking skills. Talk to your child as you are doing things, how you are feeling as you do things and what you are seeing. This helps develop their own understanding of emotions and develop key language skills.

It is extremely important to remember that it is not a race, all children develop at different rates - even within a family - so don’t expect your child to do the same thing at the same time as another child.

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