Toddler Social Emotional Development

Socialemotional development includes the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others (Cohen and others 2005). It encompasses both intra- and interpersonal processes. Typical 1 year old behaviors:

  • Recognize a picture of themselves or their image in the mirror
  • Imitate adults’ actions and words
  • Understand directions or commands and respond to them
  • Bring things to “show” others
  • Feel jealousy
  • Show frustration
  • Will play alongside another child but not yet with another child
  • Be able to play alone for a few minutes
  • React to changes in daily routines
  • Share
  • Begin to say “no” when asked to do things they do not want to do
  • Develop a range of emotions
  • Express emotions by having tantrums, showing aggression by hitting or biting
  • Start to assert independence by preferring to try do things “by myself”

Aggressive Toddler Behavior

Below is information from Claire Lerner and Rebecca Parlakian (link to full article below).

From Birth to 12 Months

Lacey, aged 11 months, wants a bite of the cookie her mother is eating. Lacey kicks her feet, waves her arms, and makes lots of sounds. But her mother just gives her another spoonful of squash. Lacey swings her arms and knocks the spoon out of her mother’s hand. Squash on the wall! Lacey bangs her hands on the high chair and starts to cry.

One of the greatest challenges in dealing with aggressive behavior is that it can feel very hurtful to parents, both emotionally and physically. When your baby yanks on your nose and won’t let go, grabs at earrings, pulls hair, bites when breastfeeding, or bats his hand at you when you take away a forbidden object, it is perfectly natural to feel a flash of frustration or even anger. However, babies do not mean to hurt or upset their loved ones. They are simply exploring the world around them through their senses. They learn how the world works by biting, mouthing, grabbing, shaking and dropping, and swatting and seeing what happens as a result, which is usually a pretty big reaction.

From 12 to 24 Months

Justin, aged 16 months, is having a great time with his father’s cell phone. He presses buttons and makes all kinds of pictures come up on the screen. When his father sees what Justin is doing, he grabs the phone out of his hand and says, “No way, buddy. This is not for kids.” Justin shouts back: “I want dat!” as he kicks his father with gusto. When his dad picks him up to calm him down, Justin kicks again with both feet.

Aggression (hitting, kicking, biting, etc.) usually peaks around age two, a time when toddlers have very strong feelings but are not yet able to use language effectively to express themselves. Toddlers also don’t have the self-control to stop themselves from acting on their feelings. They are just beginning to develop empathy—the ability to understand how others feel. So, they cannot yet say, Mommy, I am mad that Zachary grabbed my favorite doll. But I know he just wants to play with me. So how about I offer him a different doll to play with? Instead, your toddler may bop Zachary on the head with a toy truck.

Feb 1, 2016 By Claire Lerner and Rebecca Parlakian Click here for full article.


Although biting is not uncommon behavior for toddlers it can be very concerning for parents.  Know that you are not alone and that we will get through this together.  There are strategies to reduce biting and support growth to eventually eliminate biting altogether. First let’s talk about the reasons why children bite.  Identifying an underlying cause of the biting will help us eliminate that stimulus and put strategies in place to support growth through this period.  Questions to consider are:  What time of day is the biting occurring?  Was the child overly tired? Who was the child playing with? Are they biting the same person? What toy was the child playing with? What happened right before the bite? There are different types of bites that occur while at school including:

  • Investigative/exploratory
  • Action/reaction
  • Purposeful

Listed below are common reasons we see biting occur while children are interacting with their peers:

  • Over-tired
  • Lack language skills
  • Frustration (Mine! You’re too close to me! Why don’t you understand me?!)
  • Teething or need oral stimulation
  • Experimenting with cause and effect

Sometimes giving a toddler who is very oral something they can chew on that is always available to them helps satisfy their need to bite down on something.  We recommend something that can be attached to the child’s shirt so that it is always available to them.  Click  here for an example.

10 Empowering Ways to Improve Toddler Listening by Laura Tamn

1.Call your child by name. Calling your kid nicknames is cute and all, but when it comes time to get down to business using their real name lets them know that you want their specific attention and that you are about to share some important information with them. In other words, it sets the tone.

  1. Get down to their level.

Nobody wants to feel like they’re being towered over, and that includes your child. If you kneel or squat down to their level, it lets them know that you care and, subconsciously, that you have respect for them and their point of view (literally). Also, meeting your child eye-to-eye helps engage them and increases their ability to focus on you and what you’re telling them.

  1. Eye contact!

When you kneel down to face your kiddo, say their name over and over again until they are 100% focused on you and both of you are looking directly at each other. Again, this increases their focus and ability to listen coherently.

  1. Use gestures and expressions.

Kids understand a variety of words and language techniques by the time they reach toddlerhood, but using hand and facial expressions as you talk helps reinforce your message and articulate it to your child in a way he/she might understand better. For example, if you want to praise your child for doing something well, smile and make excited/pleased hand gestures.

  1. Keep realistic expectations.

Lets be honest for a second; is your child really going to listen to everything you say all of the time? The answer (unfortunately) is no. Make sure you keep that in mind when talking to your toddler, because not every time is going to be the most convenient time for their brains to focus on your big adult words!

  1. Keep it short and sweet.  

The shorter and more succinct the message, the better the child will understand and retain it. Kids tune out long, drawn-out instructions, so aim for just a few sentences and then send them on their way.

  1. Use praise effectively.

It is super important to reward kids directly for their specific strengths and use fewer general phrases such as “good job” or “you’ve won” as that may creates a habit of entitlement. For example, if your child puts away their toys without being told, reward them by saying “I love how you put away your toys!” instead of just “thank you!” or “good job.” This helps the child understand the things he/she does well and the things he/she doesn’t, which will help them learn and grow quicker and easier.

  1. Essential oils.

I know what you’re thinking: what kind of hippie advice is this? Essential oils aren’t actually all that crazy. Just a few drops in a diffuser of some calming oils such as lavender might aid in distressing some heated situations, and even help your child focus.

  1. Try the whisper technique.

Whispering, as ridiculous as it sounds, sort of forces your child to listen intently on what you’re saying so he/she can hear it. It can also make the situation more fun, because to your kid it might feel as if you’re sharing a special secret with them. If they feel special about whatever you’ve told them, they’re more likely to retain it and think about it in certain situations. This technique is effective especially when you feel like you’re at a shouting point, because it can turn an angry situation into a calm and even fun outcome.

  1. Sing your words.

You don’t have to be a Disney princess, but singing your instructions can turn listening into a fun game or activity that can help a child remember or focus on what you’re telling them. Music improves their mood, catches their attention, and in turn improves their listening. It might even turn some frustrating situations into happy ones!

Helping Your Toddler Learn

  • Seems silly but spend time blowing a cotton ball across the floor with a straw.  This very simple, yet fun, activity helps build important oral muscles needed for speech!
  • Put things out of reach.  By putting some things out of reach your child is forced to communicate with you if they want those toys.  This communication can be non-verbal at first (grabbing your hand, leading you to object and pointing) which gives you to opportunity to model the language they are thinking. “Please get the truck for me Mommy/Daddy”
  • Turn the TV off.  Parents who have the TV on for background noise while their child is playing tend to speak less.  Getting into the habit of speaking more to your child will go a long way in developing their language and boosting their vocabulary.
  • Describe Everything!  Just talk, talk, talk!  Whether you are at home, in the car, or in a public place (yes, you might look crazy but it’s worth it) talk out loud about what you are doing.  Some examples: “Mommy is opening the refrigerator.  Mommy got out the milk and now —–
  • Mommy is pouring the milk for Logan”  “Daddy is pushing the cart with Logan.  Daddy is putting the cookies into the cart” “Daddy is washing the dishes” “Mommy is combing Logan’s hair” You get the point. 🙂
  • Gesture More.  It has been shown that non-verbal communication matters hugely to children’s understanding of language.  It also helps burn more calories for Mommy and Daddy. 🙂
  • Stop and Listen.  I mean REALLY Stop and Listen.  Once they are verbal always give your child your full attention and wait patiently for them to finish talking to respond.


Dealing with Toddlers Challenging Misbehavior By Health Families BC

Resources & Links:

HealthLink BC: Managing Your Toddler’s Frustrating Behaviours

HealthLink BC: Emotional and Social Development, Ages 12 to 24 Months

Community Care Licensing: Guiding Children’s Behaviour

Ministry of Children and Family Development: How Parents Can Support Their Young Children

Raising Good People