Social and Emotional Child Development:
25 to 36 Months

In only one short year, your toddler has gone from being wobbly on her feet to making you chase after her every chance she gets. Her verbal skills have also improved significantly since a year ago and by her third birthday she could be talking up a storm. All of this, along with her interaction with you and other toddlers, has contributed significantly to her early child development.

Now that your toddler is two years old, he is more aware of other toddlers as beings rather than objects. However, he is still working on his social skills and may not be very willing to share his toys with his playmate. Although you should always keep on eye on them, as long as no one is getting hurt, you should try to avoid interfering. You need to allow your toddler to figure out how social relations work on his own.

You may also notice that your toddler doesn’t play with her friend so much as she plays beside them, imitating and observing what her friend does. Through this observation, she will likely learn new behavior. Don’t be surprised if your toddler adamantly refuses to eat carrots at home but gobbles them up when she’s with a friend who does the same. This positive peer pressure helps expose your toddler to new situations. It can also teach your toddler how social rules change from one setting to the next. Tantrums might work at home to help your toddler get what he wants, but he may display a tremendous amount of patience when he’s with a friend who won’t react to his fit.

Emerging Skills
Sharing is still not one of your toddler’s best qualities. In fact, since her sense of empathy is still evolving, and since she still sees herself very much as the center of the universe, she is unlikely to fully understand the concept of sharing, let alone why she should do it. She sees objects as an extension of herself, which is why she’ll cry "Mine!" when she yanks a toy back from the "identity thief." Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t start laying the foundations to encourage sharing and co-operation now. The earlier you start, the more likely your toddler will pick up the behavior sooner. Make a point of sharing at home so your toddler can see it as a regular part of life.

Your toddler is also starting to develop a conscience, although this won’t really get to be in place before they are three or four years old. To get them off on the right development foot, help them learn the difference between right and wrong. Encourage them to tell the truth by thanking them when to come to you to admit a mistake. Verbal encouragement goes a long way with your toddler. When he has admitted to a misdeed, sit down with him and calmly explain why what he did was wrong. You may need to do this a few times before he understands his mistake, but eventually he will learn.

Common Behavior
While your toddler used to great people with no problems, suddenly every time she’s introduced to someone new, she runs to hide behind you. Shyness is very common in two year olds and is usually a sign of your toddler’s discomfort of being in a new situation. Maybe she is shy around one particular age group or perhaps she is shy with everyone she encounters lately. Either way, it is normal and will most likely pass. But try to avoid branding your toddler as "shy"; hearing it too often may just cause your toddler to live up to that label and eventually become a shy child.

Toddlers often develop fears of common, everyday objects or sounds. It could be the bathtub; it could be the neighbor’s dog; it could even be the sound of vacuum cleaner that used to lull him to sleep when he was a few months old. While the fear will pass, help him conquer it sooner by talking about it. Don’t dismiss the fear as irrational even if it does seem silly to you. Let him know that it is okay to be afraid and ask him what it is that scares him about flushing the toilet. Explaining to your toddler why it is that the fire truck has such loud sirens may help him feel more at ease the next time one goes whizzing past your house.

If your two-and-half-year-old suddenly brings home an imaginary friend, don’t be alarmed or worry that your child is "anti-social". Instead, recognize that the friend is your toddler’s way of being able to control something all their own and control is one thing toddlers strive very hard to have. Also, when you welcome an imaginary friend into your home, you welcome and promote your child’s creativity. To inspire your child’s mind, you can encourage creativity through many other venues as well, including reading, story telling and dress-up.

By the time your toddler reaches her third birthday, her ever growing vocabulary will allow her to express herself and her feelings more clearly. Her social skills will be improving as she can communicate better with those around. And since her inner censor has not yet been turned on, she will gladly offer you every opinion that pops into her head! As you watch your preschooler blow out the candles on his third birthday cake, you’ll find it hard to believe just how much he has grown in such a short time.