Written by: Jenny Smith
Toddlerhood is actually a crucial stage in laying the foundation for the development of emotional intelligence which is what goes on to be a major factor in forming social skills. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to manage ones own emotions and relate well to others and can be what makes the difference between succeeding or failing in interpersonal relationships and academic or career achievements, but is it really possible to support the development of emotional intelligence in an over-wraught and screaming toddler?!.
Child development experts advise that the most key quality needed from parents in this stage is empathy because under the law of like attracts like, kids who receive a lot of empathy will also go on to develop a lot of empathy towards others which forms the cornerstone of successful interpersonal relationships. Empathy is simply the ability to put yourself into the shoes of another and experience life through their lens and perspective. It doesn’t mean overly analysing them or remembering how you felt in a similar experience and assuming that it is the same for them, it means stretching out towards them and doing all that you can to feel what it feels like to be them in that moment.
Affirming any feelings that you can perceive is one way of expressing empathy, statements like ‘I can see you are really angry’ or ‘It really hurt you when you fell over didn’t it’ give a clear message of acceptance and validation which in turn builds a container for the toddler to settle down into.
A common mistake that is made with children of this age is to try to force them to share things too early. Sharing is a quality that understandably most parents want to foster in their offspring but there is an important stage that needs to be in place before two year olds feels secure enough to let go of what is precious to them. The technique of taking turns is useful here as a way of honouring their time with something so that your child can be told that it is their turn with the bike now and afterwards it will be Sophie’s.
Try and let them choose
If it is possible to let them choose how long they have something, you will be modelling how to trust, rather than being tempted to grab things away from others. If your child is allowed to fully enjoy their toys they can then give them up with grace rather than always being in a feeling of having their time squeezed. If you are around kids that are grabbing toys off other children remind yourself that they are probably expressing unhappy feelings and find a gentle way to intervene by putting your hand on the toy and affirming to them that they want it ‘you want this truck sweetheart?’ and then checking in with the other child ‘are you finished playing with this yet love?’
If not you can then explain to the child who is grabbing and see if another toy is ready and support them through a meltdown if that happens. If your toddler lets toys be taken away before they are finished playing with them, teach them how to be assertive by practicing at home with teddies and the phrase ‘I’m still playing with this’. If there are particularly precious toys for your little one encourage them to put them away when friends come over.
Other skills to learn
Overtly commenting on how other children seem to be feeling, sets up a model of noticing others empathetically, and letting children know that getting angry is common as is working things out. Helping them to learn to wait is also a very supportive skill to foster. If your child is getting impatient about having something remember that they are probably wanting to make themselves feel better by having it (in the way that adults do too!) and return to your skill of empathy, ‘you want the bike now my love,¬† it’s hard to wait’. Overall remind yourself again and again that they are little people with feelings who deserve to be understood and that underneath the rage is almost always hurt or fear.