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Published on October 14, 2014

toddler holding her blanket

The Toddler Years: The Fascinating Stage of Toddlerhood (Part 1)

Toddlers Lack Experience in Human Relations

Toddlers do not yet understand that others have feelings or feel pain. They begin developing empathy, but it’s not consistent. If a toddler hears his baby brother crying, he may attempt to stick a pacifier in the baby’s mouth. But 15 minutes later, he may try to dump the baby out of the infant seat so he can sit in it himself. Learning about feelings and the words for his or her feelings takes time.

Toddlers usually don’t play together. They play side by side and watch each other, but cooperative play is a ways off. When toddlers are in groups, they spend more time defending their possessions or trying to take things away from others than actually playing.

Learning to share will be in the future. True sharing happens because the person WANTS to share. When we ask toddlers to share, we really mean we want them to take turns. Taking turns requires an understanding of time which toddlers don’t have. So if we say, “Let your friend play with it for a while,” the toddler has no idea that she will eventually get the toy back.

Toddlers Resolve Sensory Overload in Physical Ways

Toddlers are like little volcanoes — their frustration builds until it explodes. Tantrums range from crying inconsolably to kicking and screaming to even breath holding. Punishing a child for a tantrum won’t help much. It takes time for the toddler to have enough language and self-control to deal with frustration in a more positive way.

Night terrors are another form of “overload” in toddlers. If your child screams in the night, thrashes around or stands in the crib shaking the rails, but doesn’t really seem to be awake, he is probably experiencing a night terror. Night terrors are different from nightmares. They happen during the transition from deep sleep to lighter sleep and can be brought on by stress and fatigue. All day long, toddlers learn new things, and the central nervous system gets overloaded. If your child experiences a night terror, you don’t need to try to wake him. Talk calmly and stay nearby until it passes.

Many toddlers need a security object or ritual to help them navigate stressful times. Examples include sucking a thumb, stroking a blanket or squeezing a stuffed animal’s nose. There’s no need to take away a security object at a certain age. If it becomes a problem or if the child uses it to manipulate you, you can limit its use. Some “kids” take their security objects to college. And that’s OK.

Toddlers Have Minimal Self-Control

By age 4 or 5, most children have the attention span and self-control to stick with something for about seven minutes. It’ll take time for a toddler to get to this point. Right now, they’re going everywhere and getting into everything. While they may understand “no,” they don’t have the self-control to stop themselves from doing inappropriate things. “Don’t touch” is another hard concept for toddlers.

Toddlers Are Egocentric and Impulsive

Toddlers think they’re the stars of the show. They also do things without thinking about the results of their actions.

Mom has music playing on the CD player, and 2-year-old Alyssa goes over to the machine and turns the volume control as high as it will go. She screams and cries when the music starts blasting. Mom runs over and turns it down. Five minutes later, Alyssa is turning the volume up again. Toddlers often act impulsively to explore the world, even if they suspect there will be a negative consequence.

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