Emotional Development of 1 year olds
It finally happened. Your adorable chubby little angel baby has magically transformed into a busy bustling toddler overnight. Ok, maybe it wasn’t magical and it wasn’t overnight but it may sure feel this way. If it’s your last baby, your feels about them turning a year may be all the stronger. But fear not, there is so much fun to come.
I, personally, think that the second year of your child’s life is an incredible time. Those 1 year olds are more independent, inquisitive, interactive but are not quite as tantrumy or willful yet. It’s simply fun watching your young toddler interact with the world and gain new understanding of how things work. So what can you expect in the second year of your child’s life?
Again About Brain Development
If you need to understand what’s happening in your child’s brain, please read Emotional Development of 2 Year Olds: Part 1. I go over what processes happen in the brain and which parts of the brain are responsible.
So as you may have imagined, the brain is still so early in its development and the connections are rapidly forming. Your young toddler has no self-control and a lot of impulses. They want to touch everything, taste everything, stick everything in little nooks and crannies. It’s a wild game.
But it’s so important for their synaptic pruning. Their brain is working hard on figuring out which synapses (connections) to keep and which to let go of. Expose them to as much as possible. And that includes food. It will still be easy to introduce new foods to them at this age. Seize the opportunity. They may stop eating the foods once they turn 2 or 3, but it’s still great practice and may stave off picky eating.
Allow them to engage in loud sensory activities. Banging a spoon on the table may seem like an incredibly irritating activity to you, but to your toddler it’s serving so many purposes. There is a cause and effect (spoon on table makes loud noise), sensory experience (the loud noise), social acceptance of behavior (how are parents reacting to this). It’s just amazing.
Same goes for messy eating and playing. LET THEM DO IT!!!!! I can’t stress enough the importance of messy play for your child. The sensory input they get from touching, tasting and smelling different textures is so important for their development.
1 Year Olds and Emotions
One of the things that your child will be working on this year is figuring out what is socially acceptable. They will test out various behaviors and watch your reactions. So it’s very important to set the stage right for the future.
For example, kids love throwing food around and they will watch to see how you react to this behavior. For the most part, when your kid is throwing food, they are either full or really don’t like what was served to them. Now you have a couple of choices. You can calmly say, “I see you’re throwing food and I think it means you’re ready to play” or if you think they still want to eat say “I see you’re not liking this food, let’s try something else.” The important thing is to remember not to overreact and not get angry. They are not doing this to spite you. But because they don’t have language yet, this is the only way they can show you what they want or don’t want.
They will also engage in a lot of “inappropriate” play (essentially things they think are fun but you may not). It could be throwing things down the toilet, playing with pet food or water bowls, opening and closing drawers, etc. They have no malicious intent behind it, they’re just exploring and having fun. So you will need to do a lot of calm correction and redirection. You will need to say “No, we don’t do …….” and then re-engage them in a different activity. Be prepared to repeat it a million times and don’t expect any adherence to the rules for a while.
Another thing that will creep up this year (if it hasn’t already) is separation anxiety. (If you want to find out more about separation anxiety and how to deal with it, read 5 Ways to Help Your Child Deal With Separation Anxiety. It may be distressing to you but it’s totally normal. It means your child has a healthy attachment to you and wants you close. What it doesn’t mean, is you needing to run and comfort them the moment they start crying because you left their sight. If you respond that way, they will always cry when you leave because they will expect you to come back right away.
A better way would be to turn and say “There is no need to cry, mommy will be right back”. Or if you are leaving them with a caregiver, just give a quick kiss, say you love them and will be back, then leave. No drama, no lingering, clean exit.
Overall look at this year as a way to set the stage for the future. Practice continuing being in tune with your child (what do they want, what are they trying to express, what can their behavior mean), narrate experiences to them, explain why they can or can’t do something, start teaching them the names of their emotions, practice and grow your empathy skills.
It is such a magical time in their emotional, cognitive and social behavior. Have fun with it, get to know your child better, enjoy them. The 2s will come sooner than you think and a whole other level of patience will be needed.