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How to Promote Emotional Development in Toddlers

 

Promoting Emotional Development in Toddlers

By Diana Garber JD, MSW

My recent blog post for San Francisco Mom’s Blog talks about how important emotional growth is for toddlers. However, emotional development often gets overlooked as children learn physical and verbal skills.  It is easy for parents to overlook how important it is for toddlers to try to solve and manage problems are important as children gain independence.  Learning how to regulate emotions and develop a sense of self starts at a young age.  My article talks about how parents can promote emotionally skills along with more traditional toddler growth:

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Last month I was lucky enough to spend a whole week with my 16-month-old niece. Besides taking credit for teaching Mallory the words “Di-Di” (a variation of my name that I pushed HARD) and “yes” (you can thank me later), I loved seeing how much she had grown since the winter.  Mallory had become much more mobile since I last saw her and was eager to show me how much she could do on her own.  For much of one afternoon, Mallory buoyantly pushed her shiny “Frozen” car from one side of the house to the other.  She was unstoppable—until she hit a literal and then figurative wall.

With the car wedged against the door, Mallory looked up at me with hope in her eyes and gestured for me to turn the car around.  Instead, I sat next to her and said, “this is so hard, isn’t it?  It seems that the car is stuck.”  And then I encouraged her to try to move the car.  My little niece looked annoyed (at the car, the wall and definitely me).  My response didn’t change and Mallory’s frustration became re-purposed into energy to experiment with different angles between the animate and inanimate object.  I saw the pure joy in her eyes when she realized the car could move backwards and she could continue driving without any physical help from me.

I was very tempted to relieve Mallory of her temporary distress and turn the car around myself.  However, as a therapist, I know how important it is for everybody, even toddlers, to learn to tolerate distress and soothe themselves when they feel sad or frustrated.  Many people who enter therapy as a teenager or young adult struggle to do so independently and (sometimes unwittingly) come to therapy to develop these emotional muscles.  There are many theories on parenting and how to nurture children from birth to college (and beyond) and those choices are personal decisions that all parents make for themselves.  However, from a therapeutic standpoint, allowing your child to experience small frustration can be a positive growth experience.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. It is ok to be frustrated.  Toddlers and little children are learning new skills every day.  It won’t all come easily and this would discourage anyone at any age.  When a child falls down trying to walk independently, she will inevitably be upset and cry out.  She might feel sad, frustrated or angry.  These feelings will pass and when a child is able to stand back up and try again, she begins to learn these feelings don’t last forever.
  2. Learning to tolerate emotions is just as important as learning how to crawl, walk or talk!  Emotions are new and can feel overwhelming to children.  When a child doesn’t get a new skill right away, she will unsurprisingly get upset just like my niece.  When that child tries again, she has grown emotionally.  She has learned that she can have negative emotions and that she can tolerate the distress they caused.  Negative emotions are a part of life. A child who gets the opportunity to practice emotional skills at a young age is well on her way to knowing she can handle bigger more frustrating events as she gets older, such as, not getting an A on a math test or getting the chorus instead of the lead in a school play.
  3.  If your child seems to be in real distress, be there for her.  Exploration is fun and teaches problem solving.  But knowing that you are there if she really struggles enforces the message to your child that she is safe and you can support her if she hit a literal or proverbial wall.

 

 

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No Body is Perfect

teenage body image

 

By Diana Garber JD, MSW

Back-to-School shopping can exacerbate negative teenage body image especially in adolescent girls.  Many parents find it hard to support their daughters during this stage without being shut out.  Check out my post at San Francisco Mom’s blog to discover ways to promote healthy body image during these critical years or read it below:

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In many households, the start of school means new clothes, however, back-to-school shopping can highlight negative body image for pre-teen and teen girls.  Returning to school can lead to feelings of insecurity and anxiety for girls as many teenagers anticipate that their classmates might notice differences in their appearance after the long summer break.

Moms want to encourage teens to feel good about themselves because positive body image helps develop a healthy sense of self.  So how do we encourage our daughters to not get hung up on numbers, to accept their bodies and not say mean things about their shapes?  If you are privileged enough that your daughter still lets you tag along on this yearly ritual, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Change negative self-talk. Being a little self-conscious during middle school and high school is normal. However if you are shopping with your daughter and she starts putting down her body or herself, it’s time to step in.  Trying to get your daughter to refocus can be tricky because you don’t want to tell her that her beliefs are “wrong” or “silly.” Instead focus on how her body supports or fuels her.  Does she love Field Hockey?  Point out how strong she is or how her body supports her athletic goals.
  2. Encourage her to pick clothes that she feels good in.  Your daughter is going to want to buy certain things that her friends are wearing—that’s what teens do. There will be small moments when your teen connects to her own unique interests—non-matching socks? Purple jeans?  Be supportive when she indicates a certain preference and encourage her when she does. This will promote the development of her own identity.
  3. Take a break.  Over lunch, discuss what she is interested in or enjoys doing.  Is she moving from JV to Varsity soccer? Now an editor on the school paper? This will subtly allow your daughter to think of herself as a whole person, not just focus on the clothes she didn’t like on her body.
  4. Be careful about negative comments about YOUR body.  I often hear mothers censure themselves for having extra weight around their middle or refusing to shop until they lose ten pounds.  When you criticize yourself, your children are listening and internalizing the notion that perhaps they would be more worthy if their bodies were more perfect.  Follow the same advice you gave your daughter. Focus on what your body does and what you want it to be healthy for (like an extra hour with her at the mall).

Remember, body image can be a reflection of how your teenager feels about themselves.  Struggling to accept her new body is a part of this age.  However if you notice a change of behavior (not participating in sports, not spending time with friends, odd conduct around meals) it is time to consult with a professional.

Happy shopping

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Millenials are not the Naughts

Millenials are not the Naughts

By: Diana Garber, JD, MSW
Millennials face real struggles when starting their career or when they find they are not on the right professional path as recently reported in the New York Times.  In my private practice, I often work with 20-somethings and 30-somethings that feel “stuck” but are unsure of their next move.  In our work together, we often uncover that strong environmental pressures –family, peer group and financial stressors—make it hard for people to discover what they want, what they love and what works for them.

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