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The top 10 Tips for Supporting Your Toddler's Emotional Development

by: Dr. Clare Albright

1. Label the emotions that your child may be feeling when they go through experiences that could stimulate emotions. For example, if they slip you can say, "That was scary," and when they look angry you can say, "You're feeling angry right now." This will help your child to understand what is happening to them and to be able to make good choices about how to cope with their emotions.

2. Miror your child when they share negative emotions by repeating back their sentence to them. If your child says, "I'm scared," you can say, "This is scary for you!" This lets your child know that you care about their pain and that you can connect with them on that level. Most parents jump quickly to reassuring or to educational responses, which can leave the child feeling unheard and alone with their negative emotions.

3. Tell your child what you are feeling when their behavior is upsetting to you. By using a direct approach when communicating, you can protect your child from the guilt and shame that they may internalize because of your unspoken, non-verbal behavior.

4. Tell your child, "I am angry right now," instead of the common third person variation, "Mommy is feeling angry right now." This role-models using "I" statements and creates more vulnerability and intimacy in the parent-child relationship.

5. Remember that your toddler's emotional "storms" are only a phase that will soon pass. When your child throws tantrums, prefers one parent over the other, or says 'no' continually it may be wiser to ignore their behavior rather than to 'tangle' with it, 'engage' with it or to try to use discipline. These 'storms' often disappear as children become more confident and secure about being a separate person from their parents and having their own identity - usually by the age of four.

6. Invest extra time to allow your child to try to do things on their own. Toddlers love to experiment with putting on clothing, pouring the juice, housecleaning, etc. This is the developmental stage where your main role is fostering your child's trust in his/her own self.

7. Use feeling words to strengthen your intimacy with your child and their capacity to be intimate with others. An easy way to form strong bonds with others is to share your feelings and reactions with them. Role model this skill for your child.

8. Consider investing in counseling for yourself. Your child is most likely going to become a "clone" of who you are in the area of emotions. If you are irritable, bitter, or anxious, your child is likely to walk in your footsteps and to become stuck in the same emotional pot holes that you are stuck in.

9. Remember that children often manifest clinical depression in the opposite manner of an adult. If your child goes through a traumatic experience such as a divorce, death of a loved one, car accident, moving to a new house, etc., they may become hyperactive and even giddy as a way of coping with their feelings of loss.

10. Interview several counselors by telephone until one "clicks" for you - if you feel that your child may be in need of professional counseling. A good counselor should be able to give you a sense of hope about the problem in concrete terms that you can clearly understand.


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