Emotional Development of 2 year olds – Part 2
In Part 1 of Emotional Development of 2 year olds, I briefly explained how the 2 year old brain works and why it’s not capable of acting rationally. This part of the series talks about how to deal with your child with empathy and understanding, without losing your marbles.
Helping your 2 year old navigate their emotions
Now that you know that there is a long road ahead of you before your child acts more rationally than emotionally, let’s talk about how to make this road a smoother one for everyone involved. This is a great short list of milestones for your 2 year old to help understand what to expect from them. As I mentioned before, learning happens from environmental exposure, so you as a parent, can do a lot to help your child master their emotional regulation.
Setting Age Appropriate Expectations
The first thing to concentrate on is setting the right expectations for your child. If you want your 2 year old to understand delayed gratification, expect a lot of push back. They don’t have a concept of time yet and can’t understand the concept of being able to do something later. Typically, telling them to wait would result in a meltdown.
A better strategy would be to work with a timer every time. You can tell them, they have 5 minutes on the timer, when it beeps, they can go do what they wanted to do. Be prepared to repeat this multiple times (more than 10) before they grasp the concept. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. You just have to stay consistent. The synapses for delayed gratification will strengthen and the connections will be solidified if you keep using this method.
Creating Appropriate Consequences
Next, we need to make sure that we put appropriate consequences in place. Consequences do not equal punishment, however. They should not be punitive and not made out of anger or frustration. For example, if your child keeps throwing toys around, it is appropriate to give a couple of warnings that if they do it on more time, you will have to put the toy away. The important thing, is to not repeat yourself (giving 2-3 warnings should be the limit) and actually carry through with the consequence. They can’t learn proper behavior if you don’t follow through. However, they will learn that your threats are meaningless and they can get away with things if they just persist enough. After the toy is taken away, expect a meltdown. And instead of being frustrated with it, look at it as a teaching moment.
Those meltdowns are the perfect times for us to name the emotions for our children and teach them how to deal with those emotions. You can give them a hug and identify their emotion. “You are feeling sad because mommy took away your toy. Mommy was also sad when she asked you to not throw it and you did not listen. Why don’t we take a break and when you calm down, we can try playing with the toys again”. Whatever you choose to tell them make sure you name the emotion for them and your tone is as calm as you can manage.
Some parting words
I know this seems over simplified and in a way it is. But the point of this post was to give a brief overview and explanation of why your toddler behaves the way they do.
I understand that things aren’t always textbook simple. We have fought through 2 hour tantrums where we felt that we got to a good spot, only to say something that would set our son off again. And it’s ok. It’s part of learning. The important part is to keep in mind that this is getting your child closer to being able to work through their emotions.
So there you have it. Your 2 year old’s brain and emotional development in a nutshell. If you have anything to add or have any questions, please, respond in the comments section.
Quote of the Day
Mental Health Tip of the Day
Sometimes we find it hard to be patient with our children. When we are depleted emotionally or physically, it’s difficult to be empathetic towards them. If you find yourself in this situation, I would encourage you to take a break and reconnect with yourself. Because when you are refreshed, you can give the best to your children.