Emotions can be difficult for anyone to identify and manage from time to time—it’s a wonder that our toddlers are navigating emotions while discovering the rest of the world. Get an overview of toddler emotional development and what you can expect your little one to experience during their emotional development journey.

Understanding Toddlers & Their Emotions

For too long, it was widely believed that little ones didn’t really “get” emotions—they didn’t really know what they were feeling, they didn’t understand how their feelings were connected to what was happening around them, and they’d likely forget those feelings pretty quickly.

We now know that to be incorrect. Babies and toddlers feel the full array of human emotions. Happiness and excitement are easy to believe, but your little one starts feeling anger, sadness, fear, and grief within the first months of their lives too.1

What are the Milestones for Toddlers & Their Emotions?

Here is an overview of the common milestones to be on the lookout for when it comes to toddler emotional development:

  • From 15 months to 18 months

    • Responds to things with affection

    • Start to show empathy toward others—comforting those who are sad, for example

    • Tantrums start to happen when they can’t control emotions

    • Start to grapple with self-control and understanding how to navigate emotions

  • From 18 months to 24 months

    • This is the time when your little one starts to understand that they are a person—or at least starts to internalize the idea of the self

    • Tantrums persist, but your toddler is better equipped to start to ramp down after they ramp up

  • From 24 months to 30 months

    • Tantrums may increase as new situations and challenges arise

    • Fear may happen more often thanks to a developing imagination—now’s when they learn the difference between the real and the imaginary or pretend

  • From 30 months to 36 months

    • Conflict comes into play amongst playgroups and around sharing

    • There is more of a push and pull between independence and the need for closeness or comfort

How to Encourage Toddler Emotional & Social Development

Toddlerhood is when your little one begins to understand that they are a person with feelings. There are plenty of exercises and activities to encourage your toddler’s emotional development, including:

  • Create and stick to a routine to encourage comfort in the predictable.

  • Spend plenty of time together during your daily routine—this encourages closeness and lets you model healthy emotions and emotional response, especially when you can share that you are feeling happy, sad, or other emotions at the same time they are.

  • Comfort your toddler when they’re upset with hugs, soothing tones, and providing comfort items.

  • Use examples of emotions being expressed as teachable moments and discuss what you’re seeing together—whether walking around the neighborhood, reading a book together, or other daily activities where emotions are encountered.

Watching your toddler grow into understanding and expressing their emotions is one of the most beautiful, exciting parts of parenthood. See what else you can expect to discover with your little one through their toddlerhood development milestones.

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