Infant and Toddler Emotional Development



Hello, Villagers! Welcome to Episode 103 of Voices of Your Village. Today I am chatting about fostering emotional development in infants and toddlers. Unlike our kiddos at that age, this is no small subject! Before we dive in, tune in to hear a special announcement in the intro <3

So often when we talk about emotion coaching with kiddos we’re talking about kiddos who have verbal language, kiddos who are far enough along with their cognitive development that their receptive language is advanced enough for them to understand everything that we say to them, and perhaps they are able to verbally express their desires. However, we’ve been getting so many questions lately about what this means when we’re talking about infants and young toddlers. Can we even do this work now, do we have to wait? 

This week we are discussing how to do this work with kiddos fresh out of the womb. First of all, the biggest component here is us. The most important thing you can work on with infants and toddlers is pausing to breathe so that you can pause and respond with intention rather than reacting. This is especially difficult with infant/toddler because their verbal response is crying. So often it is hard for us to regulate our cortisol response because we are mirroring their emotions. 


The key here is that it’s not their job to calm down so that you can calm down, it’s your job to regulate your emotional response so you can respond with intention.


So often in infant/toddler we react by solving their problems for them. Let’s go back to the basics here, we know that the first phase of emotion processing is allowing them to feel. So, we need to hold space for them to feel frustrated or annoyed without automatically removing emotional obstacles for them. Holding that space and validating their emotion lets them know that it’s okay for them to feel. Also, by verbally labeling their emotions while they’re in them we are letting them know what it is that they’re feeling. 

In infancy we are largely still looking at coping mechanisms because kids are co-regulating with us they are going to fire off of our regulations (this is why it’s so important for us adults to have our emotion processing toolboxes fully stocked). If every single time your child cries, you feel a rush of anxiety that won’t go away until they’re done crying, it becomes their job to regulate your emotions. 


These tiny humans understand so much more than we give them credit for.


I want to be talking to them all the time, not to the point of overloading them. But I narrate my day for them, I tell them what is coming next. I am continuing to build their awareness and present them with options, “I can see that you are frustrated, instead of throwing your milk you can say all done.” 


What appears as behavior is really an inability to communicate with verbal language.


As we support kiddos in the midst of developing verbal language, using sign language is huge. Your kiddo develops control over their fine motor skills before they are able to communicate verbally, demonstrating, and teaching them common signs is a great way to kickstart this focused communication. I’ve had kiddos signing back to me at 9 months old because we started it so early. Tune into episode 10 for more information on support language development.

This is where your life will be a game-changer and so will theirs: while they are whining or crying is not the time to talk about the problem. While they are using a whiny voice, they are not yet regulated enough to begin solving a problem. This is the time to help them regulate, offer them two options, “Would you like a cuddle, would you like to do five big jumps?” We are giving them sensory input here that helps them process that cortisol so that they can become ready to problem solve. If we offer up something a screen or a snack when they aren’t hungry then we are not giving their body the tools that it needs to process that cortisol. Instead, we are temporarily numbing it and the processed emotion lives below the surface and is ready to explode again.


The key here is to offer coping tools.


I know how hard it is to walk away from the child who is having a tantrum because we know what they want or need and know how to fix it. We can make the whining stop, we can make the crying stop. But then, every time they have a hard emotion they think whining and crying works. We have to build a different routine for them, different habits so that when they whine or cry that have a coping strategy to reach their calm.


Once they are calm we can problem solve.


The goal here is to build our awareness so that we can respond with intention and help them build their awareness so they have their own choice of how to respond. Until we teach them that we know better, they will react instead of responding with intention. This work takes awareness first and won’t be perfect, they’re practicing and learning this so all throughout the day they’ll make mistakes. All we have to do is support them. Snag our free emotion coaching guide for more support on this journey. 


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