At the age of two, the toddler’s brain is rapidly developing, coming into developing the structures that manage some of the vitally essential functions and life skills. We still don’t have as much neuroscientific evidence during this stage of life as we do others. However, more and more research is being done, as research shows the Early years are most important in life developing years and how we are shaped into the people we will become. We still have so much to learn about the brain during the toddler years.
There are more in-depth reasonings and vocabulary that goes along with what I’m about to say, but I’ve narrowed it down to give a brief explanation. There are three processing centers in the brain, they each are distinct in their functions, yet they are connected. The bottom of the brain controls all of the things needed to keep the body alive. The brain’s center controls the emotions, and the front (or cortex) is the area of our highest thinking level of the brain. The lower portions of the brain develop first. They are wired earlier and more completely than the cortex. This means that toddlers’ emotions kick in way before logical thinking, and that rational thought is still in the early stages of development. So yep! You’re going to have to have some patience and say things over and over again. Toddlers are going to need to practice everything over and over again, as well as experience things over and over again before they build up that logic. Telling a child to stop crying or getting frustrated because they don’t stop and action right away means that the prefrontal cortex has yet to develop the reasoning for stopping and won’t kick in yet to override that emotional impulse.
It should always be kept in the minds of adults working with kids, even those who don’t, for that matter (I’m talking about that judgy lady in target), that children are NOT just little adults. It takes several years for humans to develop and become independent. During this dependency, children’s development and how the adults act and react are critical to their healthy growth and development.
Toddler’s work is hard work, every day, they wake and start discovering their world and learning something new. We are often told that to master something; we need to practice it. Now think about a child learning to walk; think about all of the practice and effort to learn this new skill. How exhausting! Most adults complain about having to work out for half an hour each day, and these little people are at it, all day long! Toddlers also begin to recognize familiar people and objects. They will imitate others and begin to use their imaginations. Their emotions are competing, as is their battle between needing the love and comfort of their loved ones and wanting to do it all themselves and become more independent, wanting to make choices on their own. At this age, children look to their parents to learn right from wrong and test these rules and limits. Often, when children this age do something wrong, they will begin to feel guilty about it.
At the end of the day, as a provider or parent, it is essential to understand developmentally where children are at. This information will govern how you react to the child. Things change daily when working with kids; as they evolve, our methods must evolve. It is hard to consider this in a moment when a toddler is screaming at you and completely melting down. We must continually remind ourselves that our reaction to their emotions will help shape the current situation and who the child will become and learn to handle things in the future. Children are always learning; every interaction they have with their environment and the people will shape who they will become.
Berger, Kathleen Stassen. The Developing Person Through the Life Span. New York, N.Y.:Worth Publishers, 1994.
Bowlby, R. (2007). Babies and toddlers in non-parental daycare can avoid stress and anxiety if they develop a lasting secondary attachment bond with one carer who is consistently accessible to them. Attachment & Human Development, 9(4), 307-319.