This page* offers parenting tips and information condensed from the book
by Dr. Brenda Hussey-Gardner ©1992-2003

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Emotional Development
[ One-Year-Olds | Two-Year-Olds | Three-Year-Olds ]
Separation Anxiety | Handling Tantrums | Fears | Positive Self-Esteem ]

When I move freely about the house on my own two legs, you know that I have conquered the developmental milestone of walking. When I say, "I do it; you don't do it for me," I appear to have mastered pronouns. But my emotional development is not as obvious as the development of motor or language skills. When I cling to Mommy or throw a tantrum for Daddy, you may forget that these are signs of emotional development. As my parent, you can facilitate my emotional development in five ways:

  1. Understanding the sequence of emotional development.
  2. Supporting me through separation anxiety.
  3. Handling my tantrums consistently.
  4. Helping me gain control over my fears.
  5. Fostering my development of a positive self-esteem.

Understanding My Emotional Development

As my parent, it is very important and helpful to fully understand the order in which I develop emotionally. This will help you understand why I behave the way I do.

One-Year-Olds [ Top]

Most one-year-olds continue to experience anxiety when they are separated from a parent. Separation anxiety usually emerges around nine months of age and generally peaks between twelve and twenty-four months. Separation anxiety is usually expressed in two ways. The first is when you leave me with another person. I cry when you leave because I fear that you will be gone forever. I may burst into tears when you return. I cry because your return reminds me how I felt when you left, and now that you are back, I'm afraid that you may leave again. Separation anxiety is also expressed when you are home but are not right beside me. Even though you may be in the same room, I may become anxious and cry because you aren't close enough to me. This may occur even though I was the one who crawled or walked to a different part of the room.

Between one and two years of age, I begin to develop and exert my independence. At this age, I like to make decisions for myself. However, I may become frustrated when I am presented with too many choices. As a younger one-year-old (twelve to eighteen months) I may say "no" when I mean "yes" simply because I learn to say no before yes. Later, as an older one-year-old (eighteen to twenty-four months) I may say "no" when I mean "yes" out of habit or because it's my only way of exerting independence. I should also begin to direct my own behavior by saying no to myself in dangerous situations. I may also use "no" to stop others from doing something and to resist you. I do this in an attempt to gain some control and to exert independence. As a one-year-old, I want to do things for myself, but I become frustrated easily when I can't.

Temper tantrums frequently result when I get frustrated. I become frustrated when I don't get my way. I can be demanding, and want things right away. I have no concept of "later," and I am often concerned only about myself. Therefore, I have great difficulty understanding when I need to wait. I also lose patience when I can't make something work the way I think it should work. I am more likely to become frustrated when I am hungry or tired. As a result, I am more likely to throw a temper tantrum when I miss a snack, don't take a nap, or go to bed late. Temper tantrums may consist of screaming, kicking, punching, and crying. Although these tantrums may be frightening to see and difficult to cope with, they are normal.

I enjoy being the center of attention and I am very affectionate. I am developing my own self-esteem, and am learning to identify and express emotions such as jealousy, fear, anger, sympathy, joy, and empathy. For example, I can empathize with another child who falls and cries by getting you to help the child.

Rituals become important at this age. I like rituals and need them, because I am changing and growing rapidly. The rituals keep certain aspects of my life reliable and routine.

Two-Year-Olds [ Top]

Separation anxiety usually decreases between two and three years of age. At this stage, I generally separate easily from you when I am left with a familiar person. However, I still tend to be shy with strangers. Even though I am more willing to separate from you, I sometimes have difficulty with it. One day I may not want to hold your hand while we go for a walk, and I may even run ahead. But the next day I may cling to you and insist you carry me. If you tell me I have to walk and refuse to carry me, I may sadly burst into tears or angrily throw a temper tantrum. On the other hand, I am more likely to cooperate if you give me a hug, explain that I am getting too heavy to carry, and promise to hold me while we sit in the rocking chair after we get home. You can further ease the situation by offering me the choice of holding either your left or right hand while we walk. When I am provided with such an option, I may make a choice gladly, with a feeling that I have some control over the situation.

Most two-year-olds go through a period when they relate better to one parent at a time. During this phase, I may want only Mommy or only Daddy to help me. This may be difficult for you. If I want Mommy only, Mommy grows exhausted from trying to meet all my needs while Daddy feels left out and unloved. At the same time, I am often very possessive of my mommy, daddy, and siblings. For example, I may tell another child, "You can't talk to him; he is my daddy."

I want to be independent, but am still somewhat dependent. I try to do a lot for myself but still need help. Often, I resist help just so I can try something until I finally get it or give up and ask for help. I experience extreme emotional shifts while I try to do things for myself. For example, after putting on my coat by myself, I clap excitedly and say proudly, "I did it!" A minute later, I collapse onto the floor, sobbing because I can't zip it. But as you start to help me, I kick my feet and scream, "I wanna do it!"

I have difficulty with transitions, such as getting dressed, ending play, and going to bed. I may be demanding, sometimes talking with a rough voice. I may be physically aggressive; pushing, hitting, and kicking to get my way. Frustration tantrums peak between two and three years of age, and many two-year-olds develop fears. The most common fears of young children are large animals, loud noises, and the dark. I don't really know why I am afraid. All I know is that I want to avoid these things. I strive to control my fears, sometimes acting them out as I play. As I approach three years of age, I may be afraid of getting lost, of sleeping alone, and of monsters.

Three-Year-Olds [ Top]

I continue to separate easily from you as long as I am familiar with the person and the place. I may not even remember to wave or kiss you good-bye unless someone reminds me. I continue to feel proud of my achievements and I enjoy praise. I call your attention to my accomplishments saying, for example, "See, I combed my hair. I look good now."

As a three-year-old I can identify when I or another person feels happy, sad, angry, tired, or hungry. When talking about my feelings, I may explain why I feel that way and say what ought to be done. For example, I may say, "That makes me sad. You shouldn't go out of the room when I talk to you. That is not polite. Next time you wait till I stop talking before you leave." When I see a hurt, sad, or angry child, I will try to comfort the child in addition to labeling how the child feels. For example, "Don't cry. It's okay you spilled milk 'cause it was an accident. Don't be sad; you can have more milk."

Between three and four years of age, children try to please their parents. If it will make you happy, I will do it, and if it makes you unhappy, I will try hard not to do it. During this period, I try to follow rules and requests, and the negativism when I was two-years old is gone. Instead of saying "no" and running away every time you try to dress me, I cooperate. Ritualism also decreases, and I can handle changes in routine.

Supporting Me Through
Separation Anxiety
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You need to provide me with separate experiences so that I learn to trust other adults and begin to establish bonds with other people. Separate experiences offer me new environments and learning situations. These experiences also give you time to work, run errands, or simply relax. Before leaving me with a new person, try to make arrangements for the three of us to play together for a brief period of time. Use the time to familiarize me with my new caregiver. By playing together, you can show me that you like this new person and that it is safe and fun to be with her. Next, leave me with the caregiver for a short period of time. If possible, before you leave me with the new caregiver for an entire day, arrange for me to stay with her for an hour or two while you run a few errands. Whenever you leave me with a caregiver, leave me with a loving person who will give me the calm and proper care I need, both as and after you leave.

When you leave me with another person, be sure to always say "good-bye." As tempted as you may be, don't sneak off thinking that will make the separation easier. Although I will probably cry when you say good-bye, I should stop crying soon after you leave. If you don't say good-bye, you risk the chance of making me always anxious and on guard; constantly afraid you will leave. When you tell me good-bye, let me know where you are going and when you expect to return. If you tell me you are going to work, I can picture you at work. This image will be more realistic if I have seen where you work or if you have discussed your work place with me. Although I can't tell time, knowing when you will return gives me an idea of when I should expect you back.

Be cheerful and confident when you tell me good-bye, and try not to linger. It is the act of separating from you that is hard for me, not the actual separation after you are gone. I usually stop crying shortly after you leave. It is best to say good-bye and leave promptly after getting me situated with my caregiver.

Many children have "cuddlies." A cuddly is an object such as a blanket or stuffed animal that a child sucks on or holds to feel safe and secure. If I have a favorite blanket or a special "friend", make sure that I have my cuddly when you leave me with a caregiver. If I don't have a cuddly, offer me a familiar object from home to cuddle.

Handling Tantrums [ Top]

There are numerous reasons children between the ages of one and four have tantrums. I may have a tantrum if I can't do something by myself or if you say "no". If you give me what I want after I throw a tantrum, I am more likely to throw another tantrum in the future because this teaches me that tantrums get me what I want. As long as the tantrum is not harmful or destructive, it is best to ignore it. Remember that if you gave in to tantrums in the past and you are now trying to ignore them, the tantrums may get worse before they get better.

There may be times when you do not want to allow a tantrum to continue where it is occurring. If we are at home and have company, or if we are a guest in someone else's home, you can change the location of my temper tantrum. For example, if others are around and I have a loud tantrum in the middle of the living room, give me a warning, and then take me to another room or hallway. Place me in a safe spot and ignore the tantrum. A safe spot is a place where there are no objects with which I could hurt myself or that I could break.

As mentioned previously, there are two types of tantrums you should not ignore; those that involve my hurting myself or another person, or destroying property. If I kick another child or tear pages in a book during a tantrum, give me a time-out. Time-out involves placing me in a safe and nonstimulating place, such as a corner, for a specified amount of time. The general rule is one minute of time-out for each year of my age. So if I am two-years-old, my time-out is for two minutes. In addition to the passage of time, I must exhibit appropriate behavior before I can leave a time-out. Don't allow me to leave a time-out when I am screaming or kicking, because I may think that the screaming or kicking behavior was the reason you let me leave. The time-out technique is an effective means of controlling tantrums and other inappropriate behaviors. The section entitled Guiding My Behavior describes the time-out technique in detail.

Also, do not ignore me if I am hurting myself during a tantrum or while in time-out. If I bang my head, tell me firmly and calmly to stop banging my head. When children are told to stop hurting themselves, most continue screaming but stop the harmful behavior. If I don't stop, place a pillow or your hand between my head and the surface I am banging on. Even while preventing me from hurting myself, continue to ignore the rest of the tantrum. The more attention the tantrum receives, the more likely I am to have another one. Always use your best judgment and never let me hurt myself. If I continue to have harmful tantrums that are difficult for you to control, talk with my doctor--I may need special help to learn not to hurt myself.

There may be a point in a tantrum when I lose control and you sense that I can't regain control on my own. At that point, go to me and comfort me. Try hugging me firmly and rocking me gently from side to side. Continue holding and rocking me until the tantrum subsides.

After the Tantrum

As soon as the tantrum stops or the time-out ends, praise my good behavior verbally. Then briefly talk about how I felt and why the tantrum occurred. When I am one- and two-years-old, you will need to do most of the talking. When I am three-years-old, you can ask me to tell you what happened; adding the details. If I receive a time-out because of harmful or destructive behavior during a tantrum, also mention why I got the time-out. After our brief talk, resume your activity--finish shopping, rejoin a party, eat dinner, or continue playing.

Minimizing Tantrums

There are three strategies you can use to minimize the number of tantrums that I have. First, set appropriate limits for me and manage my behavior consistently. Guiding My Behavior discusses limit setting and behavior management techniques in detail. Second, try to determine if there is a pattern to my tantrums, and break it. For example, if I have tantrums only in the late morning when I don't get a mid-morning snack, make sure I always get the snack. Third, provide appropriate opportunities for me to release my frustrations. As you decide on my outlet, consider how I act during a tantrum. Do I kick? scream? Provide me with a similar outlet. If I kick when I am angry, give me a special pillow that I can kick or stomp on when I am angry. Try to catch me before I start a tantrum, and redirect me at that point. If you don't sense my frustration before the tantrum occurs, suggest at the beginning of the tantrum that I go to my outlet. Praise me for doing that if I do it. If I don't ignore the tantrum, during our talk after my tantrum has passed, remind me that I should have gone to my outlet instead.

Helping Me Gain
Control Over My Fears
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Most children develop fears at some point in their young life. They are most frequently afraid of large animals, loud noises, and the dark. As they grow older, many children fear getting lost, sleeping alone, and confronting monsters. When I am afraid, I need to know that you are not afraid, that you accept my fear, and that you will help me gain some control over my fear.

For example, if I am afraid of a big bad wolf, searching my bedroom to prove a wolf isn't hiding in the room often does little or no good. When I am afraid, I need a way to gain control of my fear. One way is for you to show me that I can make the object of my fear go away and stay away. If I am afraid of a big bad wolf, try saying, "Let's find the big bad wolf and tell him that he has to go back to the woods. When we find the big bad wolf, we will walk him to the front door, open the door and make him leave. Then we will lock the front door so he can't come back in." The technique of walking the large animal or monster to the door and making him leave is almost always effective. You can use any other technique as long as it shows me that you are not afraid, that you accept my fear, and that you will help me achieve some control over the fear.

If my fears are extreme, try to desensitize me gently to the object of my fear. Perhaps I cry and hide behind you every time I see a cat. Take the source of the fear, which in this case is cats, and slowly introduce it again in a non-threatening way. In the beginning, show me pictures of cute cats in a book. Once I am comfortable looking at pictures of cats, try playing with a toy cat. Next, take me to the pet store to see a cat or arrange to be outside when a friend is walking a small cat on a leash. Finally, when I am ready, gently encourage me to pet a small, friendly cat. Throughout these new experiences with cats, point out good things about cats.

Minimizing Fears

Although most young children develop fears, there are a few things that you can do to help minimize the number of fears I have. Before we watch a television show or movie, find out what it is about and whether it contains any scary or violent scenes. Remember to determine what is scary and violent from my perspective. Avoid exposing me to inappropriate material. If I see or experience something that is frightening, explain the situation to me, along with any positive outcomes that may apply. After the experience, point out any similar, positive occurrences that you have encountered.

Sometimes you can make a potential fear less intense if you prepare me beforehand. For example, during a bad thunderstorm, hold me on your lap and speak in ways that will decrease the scariness of the situation. Mention that because it is raining hard, I might hear some loud thunder. Tell me that thunder sounds like drums. We could sing a song, like: "Thunder, thunder go away; Come again another day; Little Tommy wants to sleep; Thunder, thunder go away." Often I will repeat the assuring chant instead of becoming afraid. This type of activity permits me to say or do something that decreases my fear.

Fostering a Positive Self-Esteem [ Top]

To develop a positive self-esteem, I need to feel good about myself. I need to feel I am competent, lovable, and worthwhile. When you ask me to do something beyond my abilities, I may feel badly if I can't do it. By understanding at what ages children learn which skills, you can set appropriate expectations. When you think something might be hard for me, use the word "try". When you ask me to do something, give me the time I need to do it as independently as possible; letting me work at my own pace. This means planning ahead and perhaps allowing an extra ten minutes for everything. This will create a more positive and relaxed atmosphere. Remember to also praise my attempts as well as my successes.

Although I am growing up and becoming more independent, I still need time for lots of cuddling. While cuddling me at bedtime, talk with me about my day. Describe two "special" things I did. As I get older, encourage me to describe the good parts of my day. While cuddling me in the morning, talk with me about the things I can look forward to during the day. Throughout the day, talk with me in a positive and loving manner. Since gestures and the tone of your voice send messages, how you say something is as important as what you say.

Spend one-on-one time playing and talking with me every day. It is best if this time is consistent from day to day. It should be a time I can count on and a time when there are no interruptions. The quality of time is as important, if not more important, than the quantity of time. A short, loving, and positive period of time each day is much better than a longer period that has negative comments, anger, and frustration. Play with me as long as it is enjoyable for both of us. Then take a break or change the play so it is enjoyable again.

Empathize with me when I am sad, when I misbehave, or when I am angry. Then discuss the behavior. If I am crying because I can't have candy before dinner, say something like, "You feel sad that you have to wait until after dinner to eat the candy. If you're really hungry, you may start eating your carrots while I finish making dinner. Let's put the candy on the counter so we don't forget to eat it after dinner." By making such a statement, you acknowledge and empathize with my feelings, make accommodations for me in case I really am hungry, and let me know when I may have the candy. If this doesn't work, redirect my attention to something else.

When I misbehave, remember the misbehavior is what is "bad," not me. When I misbehave, tell me what I need to do differently and tell me why. By telling me why I may not do something, you provide me with a rationale that I can use later to direct my own behavior. Similarly, when I behave well, praise the specific behavior and let me know why the behavior is desirable. Always be a good role model for me--praise yourself when you deserve it.

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