Toddlers get a bad rap, and with the regular tantrums and liberal use of the word “no,” it’s easy to see why. But there’s a lot to appreciate during this stage, particularly as children reach emotional milestones, form deeper relationships, and develop unique personalities. Early childhood education (ECE) plays a huge role in emotional development by offering children a safe environment in which they are free to express themselves and form healthy relationships. Detailed below are a few key emotional milestones that early childhood educators observe in the toddlers with whom they work.
The most distinctive marker of becoming a toddler is the dreaded temper tantrum. Although occasional tantrums occur between one and two years of age, they are particularly common during the Terrible Twos. Toddlers may scream and cry, or merely act sullen when they don’t get their way. They may not cross over into full tantrum on all occasions, but defiance can definitely be expected, particularly when toddlers are told to do something they don’t enjoy.
Quick Changes in Emotion
Volatile by nature, toddlers can go from delighted to angry in seconds, and switch back just as quickly. Changes may be induced by a variety of factors; toddlers may get angry if a parent makes what they perceive as an unreasonable request, or may express sudden happiness upon the arrival of a favorite grandparent or sibling.
Toddlers are independent individuals. They like to do things their way, and they don’t want adults, or other children, telling them what to do. This love of independence is mainly evident when toddlers play with other children. In reality, this phenomenon cannot accurately be expressed as playing with other children, as most toddlers simply play alongside other kids. They can be reluctant to share their favorite toys with others. Because they are more independent, toddlers may demonstrate separation anxiety less frequently, although it rarely disappears altogether during this stage.
Some Beginning Signs of Cooperation
Although toddlers mainly want to play on their own, they do occasionally cooperate with other children, particularly if they are regularly exposed to younger or older siblings. Cooperation becomes more common as children approach three years of age, when they may begin to participate more willingly in simple games.
As toddlers near three years old, copying plays a larger and larger role in their language and behavior. They are particularly inclined to emulate parents, grandparents, teachers and older siblings, although some may occasionally copy younger children. Because children in this age group are so inclined towards mimicry, parents and teachers must pay more attention to seemingly innocuous everyday language or habits, or they may encounter behaviors they’d rather not see in their children.
Toddlers can be defiant at times, but they’re also full of personality. Failure to meet certain milestones is not necessarily cause for alarm, as simple shyness can make them seem like they’re further behind than they actually are. However, an awareness of common emotional milestones is important, especially as children begin to spend more time with one another in preschool and playgroups.
Early childhood educators play a critical role in monitoring toddlers’ emotional development and catching mental health issues early on. As experts at Psych Central point out, toddlers can suffer from depression or other mental health problems. The sooner these issues are caught and treated, the less lasting damage they’ll cause. Toddlers’ experiences can shape the children and young adults they become, so the role of emotional development and support cannot be understated.