Emotional Life of the Toddler book cover and author headshot

The Emotional Life of a Toddler

Once my second kid started sleeping through the night, the most challenging part of raising two young kids became navigating my older kid’s emotional toddler stage.

For nearly two years after crossing six months old, I found our first kid to be a great listener. Then the tantrums and outbursts began. We know why. That toddler and pre-schooler stage is the height of emotional and social development. It’s tricky.

I find many parent social posters and expert books to be genuinely helpful. One of the classics of the genre is The Emotional Life of a Toddler, first published in 1993 by child psychologist and researcher Dr. Alicia Lieberman. I read the 2017 edition.

My notes below for future reference.

My notes:

  • Emotional life of child: “Toddlers feel deeply, and their feelings are important. As parents, we need to be attuned to our children’s emotions and respond to them in ways that help them feel seen and heard.”
  • In 1953, Donald Winnicott first introduced the “good enough mother”, a concept encouraging parents to accept their limits and that children will have to learn to grow beyond them
  • Toddler strategies: creating safe spaces and redirecting their attention
  • In the circle of security, parents are encouraged to be “bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind “
  • “Every aspect of the toddler’s development is influenced by the presence or absence of a secure base in a partnership between parent and child”
  • Tip: Your toddler doesn’t understand their own feelings yet. Help them find the words. “Are you feeling mad or scared?” “What is making you feel sad right now?”
  • Tip: Choice architecture is helpful for toddler’s in development. Rather than “what do you want for lunch” try “Do you want these crackers or a peanut butter sandwich for lunch,” which gives them agency but keeps it contained
  • Tip: Ask them to help! Find small tasks to contribute (mix this; carry that; watch this)
  • Tip: Feed their curiosity, show them how the world works
  • Toddlers thrive in a secure and predictable environment, where they know what to expect. By establishing routines and consistent boundaries, you can create a sense of stability that can help your toddler feel safe and secure.
  • Foster your toddler’s autonomy: Toddlers are at a stage where they are learning to assert their independence, and it’s important to support them in this process. By giving your toddler choices and opportunities to make decisions, you can help them develop their sense of autonomy and self-esteem.
  • Use positive discipline strategies: Discipline is an important part of parenting, but it’s important to use strategies that are positive and respectful. Rather than punishing your toddler, focus on positive reinforcement and setting clear expectations.
  • Research has shown giving kids space to make mistakes is the path to creativity
  • Take care of yourself: Parenting can be stressful, and it’s important to take care of yourself so that you can be the best parent possible. Make time for self-care activities, such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies, and seek support from friends, family, or a professional if you need it.
  • “Discipline is not about punishment; it’s about teaching our children to regulate their own behavior. By setting clear expectations and providing positive reinforcement, we can help our toddlers develop self-control and responsibility.”
  • If your toddler primarily seeks comfort from one parent over the other then try to find one-on-one activities separately to build a bond. Avoid forcing the toddler to seek comfort from the other parent.
  • Follow the toddler’s lead: Toddlers are naturally curious and love to explore, so follow their lead and engage in activities that interest them. For example, if the toddler is interested in animals, take them to the zoo or read books about animals together.
  • Get down on the floor and play with your toddler, whether it’s building towers with blocks, playing with dolls, or playing pretend.
  • Sing and dance together: Toddlers love music, so sing and dance together to engage and connect with them. Sing nursery rhymes or children’s songs, or put on some music and dance together.
  • Read books together: Reading books together is a great way to engage toddlers and help them develop language and literacy skills. Choose books with colorful pictures and simple text that the toddler can understand.
  • Use positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for engaging toddlers and encouraging positive behavior. Praise the toddler for good behavior and achievements, and use rewards such as stickers or small treats to reinforce positive behavior.
  • Provide sensory experiences: Toddlers are very sensory-driven and love to explore their environment with their senses. Provide sensory experiences such as playing with playdo or sand, finger painting, or exploring different textures and materials.
  • Get outside: Toddlers need plenty of opportunities to play and explore outside. Take the toddler to the park, go on a nature walk, or have a picnic in the backyard.
  • To help with a younger sibling: Encourage the older sibling to help with age-appropriate tasks such as getting diapers, singing to the baby, or holding the bottle. This can help the older sibling feel involved and invested in caring for the baby.
  • Provide special one-on-one time with the older sibling: Make sure to carve out special time for just the older sibling, such as reading a book or playing a game together, to help them feel loved and valued.
  • Encourage gentle interaction between the siblings: Encourage the older sibling to interact gently with the baby, such as talking to them or stroking their hair. Model gentle behavior yourself and praise the older sibling for being kind and gentle with the baby.
  • Establish a consistent bedtime routine: Toddlers thrive on routine and predictability, so establish a consistent bedtime routine that includes soothing activities such as a bath, a story, and a lullaby. Stick to the same routine every night so the toddler knows what to expect.
  • Create a calm and relaxing sleep environment: Make sure the toddler’s sleep environment is calm and relaxing, with soft lighting and a comfortable temperature. Avoid stimulating activities such as watching TV or playing on electronic devices before bed. Set clear boundaries and expectations: Make sure the toddler knows what is expected of them at bedtime, such as staying in bed and going to sleep. Use positive reinforcement such as praise or small rewards for following the rules.
  • Use a transitional object: Many toddlers find comfort in a transitional object such as a stuffed animal or blanket. Encourage the toddler to cuddle with their transitional object at bedtime to help them feel secure and calm.
  • Provide a sense of control: Toddlers crave a sense of control and independence, so provide choices where possible, such as letting them choose which pajamas to wear or which story to read. This can help the toddler feel more involved and invested in the bedtime routine.
  • Be patient and consistent: It may take some time for the toddler to adjust to the bedtime routine, so be patient and consistent in enforcing the rules and boundaries. Stay calm and positive, and avoid getting frustrated or angry if the toddler resists bedtime.

Raising young kids has been as challenging as anything I’ve done but I have appreciated books and other expert advice.

Leave a Reply