Social and Emotional Development: Your 2-Year-Old Child

An In-depth Look at Your 2-year-old Child’s Social and Emotional Development

Socially and emotionally, 2-year-olds are gaining independence, learning about their feelings and the feelings of others and starting to really enjoy time with friends. Let’s talk about a few of their social and emotional developmental points:

Your Two-Year-Old Has a Personality – And They Like to Show It

Your 2-year-old child has begun to show their distinctive personality to you and others. They have preferences in food, toys and people. They will prefer to play around certain friends at daycare, they will want you to provide their favorite foods, they will want to do certain activities and read the books that they choose. The best part of this is that they expect you to respect their wishes. Which is fine, of course you will read the book they choose and they can have their favorite foods. But, all things in moderation, right? Not to a 2-year-old child, they haven’t learned that yet. You get to teach that by showing them what ‘no’ means.

All the while, their personality is still forming. Pay attention to the way they react to new experiences or frustration. You will notice their personal characteristics and while they aren’t set in stone, they may be how your child will react throughout their lives. My oldest daughter is someone who doesn’t react to negative stimuli immediately. She studies it as it is happening to her – thoroughly. And then, when she has decided she doesn’t like it, she puts the kibosh on it and will not give it a chance to happen again. I saw this at her daycare when she was a toddler. One of the daycare workers and I were observing her with a friend that she liked to play with, we thought it was cute. But at this moment the friend took a little bucket and popped Bri in the forehead. She stared quizzically at her friend, pondering. Her friend did it again. Bri shook her head ‘no’ at her friend. Her friend raised the bucket to do it again and Bri knocked her down and toddled away. She never played with that friend again, despite the daycare worker trying to get them together. She did the same thing during her first serious relationship. He started playing games with her emotions – once, twice and he was history. This part of her personality was present when she was two and it is still here today.

Your 2-Year-Old Child’s Need to Communicate

Your two-year-old is checking out the world around them and thinking about so many more things than in the previous year. They want to tell you about what they see, hear and feel. When they don’t have the words to communicate what they want you to know, they get frustrated. When you aren’t able to figure out what they want, you get frustrated. If you both spend all of your time frustrated, you are going to have one memorable year and it won’t be good. One of the ways to circumvent these frustrations is to work on their vocabulary.

Understands Feelings in Themselves and Others

Your two-year-old understands that they are having feelings and what simple feelings are. They will know when they are happy and sad, but you may want to help them define frustrated, annoyed, excited, etc. by giving them the words to the emotion as they are experiencing it. While they may not be able to distinguish the different emotions right away, it is good practice as they will begin to understand better as the year goes on. A two-year-old child understands when others are sad. They are able to display acts of empathy for others who are feeling blue. They also understand when you are annoyed with them and will react to that.

Friends Are Okay to Have Around

Your child gets excited to see and be with other children, their friends, as they have been able to equate being happy and having fun with seeing these other little people. This helps them demonstrate some independence from you and happens because they are feeling less separation anxiety. Your 2-year-old child will really like playing with friends, as long as they are not trying to share their toys. Two-year-olds play well side-by-side together, but are not yet ready to combine activities, although they are learning to ‘take turns’. This is a normal progression in their social growth. They will watch their friends and maybe imitate what other children are doing, but that is it as far as playing together will go.

Independence Means “No, Mommy!”

Your two-year-old child may not want your help and with their new language skills and awareness of emotion, they are able to tell you – forcefully. Defiance is here! While this may pull on the heart strings and not be how you want your child to communicate with you, it is their limited way of growing their independence. Use it as a way to teach manners. Tell your toddler, “We say, ‘No, thank you.'” or “We use our inside voices, even when we are angry.” They may not get the message right away, but it is a start.

Starts to Imitate Boy or Girl Behavior

Two-year-old children become aware of their sex and will begin to imitate and identify with boy or girl behavior as they start to become attuned to the different genders. Boys will begin to walk and talk like dad and girls will want to act like mommy. And they may imitate the opposite sex as well. It is all normal behavior as they are just learning about the differences in people and trying out some identities.

Social and Emotional Milestones Highlighted by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Imitates behavior of others, especially adults and older children
  • Increasingly aware of herself as separate from others
  • Increasingly enthusiastic about company of other children
  • Demonstrates increasing independence
  • Begins to show defiant behavior
  • Increasing episodes of separation anxiety toward midyear, then they fade

What if your 2-year-old isn’t doing these things?

If you are worried that your toddler is not progressing socially or emotionally, write out your specific concerns and bring them up whining talking with their doctor at their next well baby visit.

Share Your Experiences with Your Two-Year-Old Child

I’d love to hear about the social and emotional development of your 2-year-old! Please feel free to share your experiences and stories in the comments below.

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