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7 Ways to Help Your Toddler Social and Emotional Development

Updated: Dec 11, 2022

The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only and is not meant in any way to replace advice given by healthcare professionals.

Your toddler now walks, he is more exposed to other people, starts to engage more with other children in play, and learns a lot of new things every day.

Your one-year-old loves exploring his surroundings as long as you are close by. He may become more attached or cling to you in unfamiliar situations or when he doesn’t feel comfortable.

Your child may still be afraid of strangers. However, she will start showing affection to familiar people. Also, you will notice that she enjoys playing different games, especially pretend games like feeding or changing a doll.

Your toddler learns through play and by copying others, both adults and children. She is showing more and more independence. She enjoys spending time with other children. However, your toddler is still not playing with other children, but beside them, which is typical for this developmental stage.

Your 18-month old child may throw temper tantrums or start showing defiant behavior and do exactly what you’ve told him not to. To handle your toddler’s challenging behaviors, stay calm and act soothingly, no matter how upset you might feel.

Your child is starting to develop a sense of self-awareness now. He realizes that he is separate and independent from you and other people, and this realization helps him develop empathy.

Social and Emotional Developmental Delays 12-24 months

At the age of two, most toddlers have accomplished social and emotional skids that allow them to express their needs and feelings, start walking, complete small tasks independently, and explore toys and surroundings.

Typically developing toddlers are expected to be more and more independent, enjoy the play, and show joy when they are with other children. Also, a two-year-old should be able to copy others, name items in pictures, complete familiar rhymes or sentences, and follow two-step directions.

Talk to your child’s doctor, if your toddler cannot or does not:

  • Show affection to familiar people

  • Copy gestures or words

  • Show any signs of independence

  • Point to things

  • Care when you/caregivers come or leave

  • Use simple objects and familiar things

  • Play games

  • Have at least six words

  • Use two-word phrases

  • Play next to/with other kids

  • Keep the skills he or she already learned

Build a Strong Relationship with Your Toddler

Loving relationships with close adults give children a sense of confidence, safety, and comfort. Caring parents, caregivers, and other adults who interact with a child and respond to his or her needs are helping build the child’s brain, boost resilience, and encourage the child to grow into a healthy adult.

Thrust and security that children develop through affection in early relationships turn into confidence and self-esteem as they grow. Supportive relationship teaches toddlers how to express their feelings, form friendships, and how to manage challenges. Nurturing connections help toddlers develop empathy, trust, and understand what is right or wrong.

Read Together

Books are a great way to promote social and emotional development in young children. Choose books with lots of colorful pictures and illustrations, as such books are the most stimulating ones for the young child’s brain. Show pictures in the book to your toddler, make sure that you name them and point to them.

Stories increase a child’s exposure to language and develop his/her ability to use language to express their feelings and needs. Reading and sharing stories can help your toddler’s brain development and boost their communication skills. Stories that portray a variety of characters and social situations help young children understand the emotional expression and develop empathy.

Also, reading helps spark your child’s creativity and imagination. Finally, reading together helps you bond with your child and have fun together.

Promote Your Child’s Emotional Vocabulary

An emotional vocabulary (or emotional language) involves words we use to express our feelings and experiences. Even before they start talking, kids use emotional language – they use body language as well as cry, smile, and laugh to express their feelings and needs.

Young children deal with the same emotions adults do. However, toddlers lack the words to talk about how they are feeling, so they often express their feelings in unconstructive ways. Teaching your child to recognize and express emotions is critical for the development of their emotional intelligence and their overall wellbeing.

Encourage Free Play

Many studies have shown that free play encourages children to learn about the world, use their senses, express feelings, and help develop language and literacy, and teach them to resolve conflicts. Play helps children develop their social independence and emotional maturity.

Unstructured play helps kids to practice verbal and non-verbal communication, experiment with different social roles, and find constructive ways to express their emotions and needs.

Encourage Independence

Allow your two-year-old to be more independent by encouraging them to do the simple task independently. This will boost your child’s self-esteem and confidence.

By giving them age-appropriate tasks and chores, you are encouraging your child to practice responsibility and independence. Allow your toddler to learn from mistakes because not being afraid of mistakes will boost their self-assurance. Allowing for more independence, of course, requires your supervision and guidance, without being over-protective.

Establish Routines and Transitions

Routines help toddlers feel safe and confident. When he knows what to expect, your little one will feel in control of his world. so, try to keep daily routines and transition times as similar as possible each day. Give your child a notice when a transition is about to happen. This helps children anticipate and prepare for a change.

Use words to describe activities and explain the routines. When kids know what to expect, they tend to feel more secure, engaged, and excited to learn. However, keep your child’s age, interest, behavioral issues, and developmental stage when creating routines and schedules, to make them more useful for your toddler.

Use Positive Reinforcement

A two-year old’s behavior can be very challenging sometimes. Whether it is kicking, biting, throwing temper tantrums or toys, try to use positive reinforcement instead of punishment when dealing with such behaviors.

Positive reinforcement in managing your child’s challenging behavior involves focusing on positive aspects of the behavior and rewarding those aspects rather than giving attention to negative behaviors.

Research shows that positive reinforcement helps children feel happy with the choices they make, learn adequate behaviors, and express themselves in positive ways.

Positive reinforcement in parenting has many forms, such as verbal praise, high-fives, hugs, reading favorite stories, as well as a variety of behavior charts or stickers that you can use as motivators when your child performs positive behaviors.

About the author:

Natasha is a psychologist with over sixteen years of experience in psychology-related research and practice. She was awarded a Certificate of Youth Counselling by USAID and was graduated with a bachelor degree in Psychology at University of Novi Sad, Serbia.

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