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Emotional and Social Development, Ages 12 to 24 Months

Emotional and Social Development, Ages 12 to 24 Months


Toddlers form strong emotional attachments. They often feel uneasy when they are separated from their loved ones. Around the same time, toddlers typically want to do things on their own or according to their own wishes. This sets the stage for conflict, confusion, and occasional breakdowns.

Toddlers often develop two conflicting feelings: wanting both independence and reassurance from their parents. Their emotions change often. But toddlers' personalities and temperament are becoming more defined.

Young children between 12 and 24 months of age feel 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 can cause irrational, extreme, and abruptly changing emotions. Often, toddlers want to master skills and tasks on their own. They believe that what they want to happen should happen. But 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. To try to keep in 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, your child may ask—or command—you to help. If something doesn't happen as toddlers think it "should," they can become impatient, easily frustrated, and unable to control their feelings.

Separation protest.

During their second year, many toddlers have separation protest (also called separation anxiety). That's because they can remember you after you have left, but they don't understand that you will come back. Separation protest may become intense at day care, for example. The toddler anticipates that you are going to leave. Your child 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. Separation protest may also be the cause of bedtime problems. You can help your child learn permanence (and that you will come back after leaving for a bit) by playing games such as peekaboo. You can also place toys under blankets to "hide" them while your child watches. Then you can "find" them together.

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. Don't give up. Keep stressing the importance of sharing. Also, it may help to have your child choose a toy to put away while other children are around. This allows your child to feel more in control. Be patient.

An awareness of others' emotions.

When parents encourage and model an awareness for other people's feelings, toddlers start to recognize examples of kindness, cooperation, and sympathy that will help them develop these social behaviors themselves. Getting 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's often hard for toddlers to work with this newfound ability. For example, they may recognize that their parents aren't happy when they misbehave. But they often don't know what to do about it.


Current as of: February 27, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
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