Emotional Development of 1 Year Olds

1 Year Old Behavior – The Start of Big Emotions

1 Year Old Behavior – The Start of Big Emotions

It finally happened. Your adorable chubby little angel baby has magically transformed into a busy bustling toddler overnight. Ok, maybe it wasn’t magical, and it wasn’t overnight but it sure feels this way. If it’s your last baby, your feels about them turning a year may be all the stronger. And you may be a little anxious about your 1 year old’s behavior. After all, toddlers are feared by most new parents. But fear not, there is so much fun to come. And the behaviors are easy to handle when you know how.

I, personally, think that the second year of a child’s life is an incredible time. Those 1 year old angles are more independent, inquisitive, interactive, but are not quite as tantrumy or willful yet. It’s simply fun watching your young toddler interact with the world and gain new understanding of how things work. So what can you expect in the second year of your child’s life?

A Little About Your 1 Year Old’s Brain Development

Emotional Development of 1 Year Olds

If you would like to deepen your understanding what’s happening in your child’s brain, please read Toddler Emotional Development – The Brain of a 2 Year Old. I go over what processes happen in the brain and which parts of the brain are responsible for emotions and their regulation. 

So, as you may have imagined, the brain is still so early in its development and the connections are rapidly forming. Your young toddler has no self-control and a lot of impulses. They want to touch everything, taste everything, climb everything, stick everything in little nooks and crannies. It’s a wild game.

But it’s so important for their synaptic pruning. Their brain is working hard on figuring out which synapses (connections) to keep and which to let go of. Expose them to as much as possible.

Activities to Include to Support The Emotional and Physical Development of Your 1 Year Old

Exposure to New Foods

It’s still pretty easy to introduce new foods to 1 year olds. Most kids are very curious about different textures and tastes, and will at least try what’s offered to them. Seize the opportunity. They may stop eating the foods once they turn 2 or 3, but it’s still great practice and may stave off picky eating.

So make sure that you’re serving them the foods you are eating. It’s less work for you and your child is getting used to the fact that they eat the same food as the rest of the family.

Don’t feed them “kid foods”, like chicken nuggets, hot dogs, mac & cheese, etc. I know that it may be a cultural thing (I’m from Ukraine and there was never a separate kids’ menu), so it may be a difficult concept for some to implement. But, the less “kid foods” you give your child, the less you’re going to struggle going forward. If they don’t eat those foods early on, they don’t develop as much of a taste for them. For example, neither one of my sons eats anything deep fried like nuggets. They don’t even like mac & cheese very much. So, it’s all about what you expose them to from the beginning.

So, try to resist the temptation of feeding your child these “kid foods” in order to boost their calorie intake. It’s not necessary. Trust your child to regulate their food intake. They know what they feel in terms of hunger, you don’t. (For more tips on feeding toddlers, please read How Not to Stress Over Picky Eating Toddlers)

Lots of Sensory Play

Allow your 1 year to engage in loud sensory activities. Banging a spoon on the table may seem like an incredibly irritating activity to you, but to your toddler it’s serving so many purposes. There is a cause and effect (spoon on table makes loud noise), sensory experience (the loud noise), social acceptance of behavior (how are parents reacting to this). It’s just amazing.

Same goes for messy eating and playing. LET THEM DO IT!!!!! I can’t stress enough the importance of messy play for your child. The sensory input they get from touching, tasting, and smelling different textures is so important for their development. It allows them to develop curiosity about the world around them. Helps facilitate physical development by improving motor functions. Gives an opportunity to start practicing independent play (which you will want them to do as soon as possible, for your own sake). And lastly – it’s just plain FUN!

Expose Your 1 Year Old To Music

This is so easy and so fun to do. Turn on music when you’re just playing around the house with your child. Play baby tunes for them in order to facilitate some rhyme and sound recognition. Listen to classical music to stimulate their brain. Listen to dance music, hip-hop, country – whatever you’re into. Or just pick up some spoons and start banging on buckets to create a one of a kind melody. Just have fun with it.

Research has shown that music is incredibly beneficial for children’s overall cognitive and socio-emotional development. A study done by the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC found that children who have been involved in formal music training starting at the age of 6, showed a more maturity in their auditory system than their non-musical peers. This is important because a more mature auditory system has the potential for accelerated acquisition of language and reading skills.

Blow Bubbles Together

Bubbles are by far my favorite activity for a kid of any age. They are an inexpensive way to truly engage your child. Bubbles help them work on blowing skills, which them transfer to things like eating and talking. You can teach cause and effect this way (blow and bubbles form). And your 1 year old ill happily expel some energy by running around or crawling to chase those bubbles wherever they go.

Story Time

Most parents love reading books to their children. It’s a wonderfully calm activity. But it’s also an activity that nourishes our children’s brains and hearts. It’s an opportunity to connect and cuddle, to explore, and to learn.

So, make sure you dedicate at least some of your day to reading books. And don’t get discouraged if your child won’t sit and listen to the book for longer than 30 seconds. It’s ok. They’re little and their attention span is short. Pick bright colored and sturdy books that little hands can explore. I love books with flaps to encourage extra curiosity from my children. Enjoy this wonderful activity together!

How Budding Emotions will Affect Your 1 Year Old’s Behavior

Emotional Development of 1 Year Olds

One of the things that your child will be working on this year is figuring out what is socially acceptable. They will test out various behaviors and watch your reactions. So it’s very important to set the stage right for the future.

Food Throwing

For example, kids love throwing food around, and they will watch to see how you react to this behavior. For the most part, when your kid is throwing food – they are either full or really don’t like the food.

Now you have a couple of choices. You can calmly say, “I see you’re throwing food and I think it means you’re ready to play” or if you think they still want to eat say “I see you’re not liking this food, let’s try something else.”

The important thing is to remember not to overreact and not get angry. They are not doing this to spite you. But because they don’t have language yet, this is the only way they can show you what they want or don’t want.

Inappropriate Play

They will also engage in a lot of “inappropriate” play (essentially things they think are fun but you may not). It could be throwing things down the toilet, playing with pet food or water bowls, opening and closing drawers, etc.

They have no malicious intent behind it, they’re just exploring and having fun. So you will need to do a lot of calm correction and redirection. You will need to say “No, we don’t do …….” and then re-engage them in a different activity. Be prepared to repeat it a million times, and don’t expect any adherence to the rules for a while.

Separation Anxiety

Another thing that will creep up this year (if it hasn’t already) is separation anxiety. (If you want to find out more about separation anxiety and how to deal with it, read 5 Ways to Help Your Child Deal With Separation Anxiety).

It may be distressing to you but it’s totally normal. It means your child has a healthy attachment to you and wants you close. What it doesn’t mean, is you needing to run and comfort them the moment they start crying because you left their sight. If you respond that way, they will always cry when you leave because they will expect you to come back right away. 

A better way would be to turn and say “There is no need to cry, mommy will be right back”. Or if you are leaving them with a caregiver, just give a quick kiss, say you love them and will be back, then leave. No drama, no lingering, clean exit.

Main Takeaways

Emotional Development of 1 Year Olds

Overall look at this year as a way to set the stage for the future. Practice continuing being in tune with your child (what do they want, what are they trying to express, what can their behavior mean), narrate experiences to them, explain why they can or can’t do something, start teaching them the names of their emotions, practice and grow your empathy skills.

Emotional Development of 1 Year Olds

It is such a magical time in their emotional, cognitive and social behavior. Have fun with it, get to know your child better, enjoy them. The 2s will come sooner than you think and a whole other level of patience will be needed.

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26 thoughts on “1 Year Old Behavior – The Start of Big Emotions”

  1. This is something I often have to remind my older kids about. No, your sister can’t figure out what you are trying to explain because her brain doesn’t work that way yet.

  2. I am sharing this with my cousin. Her 1.5 year old has been going through some changes that have been challenging for my cousin.

  3. I have a one year old right now. It’s one of my favorite ages (he’s my sixth). It’s the most fun to watch them go through the development milestones!

  4. I have a two and a half year old but I am pregnant now and its so hard to remember things like this. I feel like I am going to be starting all over. Definitely pinning this to come back to!

  5. I really liked when you said not to overreact or get angry because it’s so easy to get annoyed when they do something we don’t like and throw things etc. I have to remember to lovingly correct them!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Amber. Yes, it’s hard not to do it sometimes. Especially when whatever they chuck is heavy and hits you in the face or lands on your foot. Lol.

  6. This is super helpful! Truthfully, I find this year one of the hardest of them all. I’m about to have another baby, so this is a great reminder of what to expect and how to handle it all.

  7. My little guy is 2 now and it’s so hard to believe. We’re getting to the tantrums now so I’m missing his sweet little one year old self some days. Great and informative post!

    1. Thank you for sharing, Beth. Yeah, since it’s my second one, I know to cherish this year because it will get harder from here. But there is still so much fun as they get older. It’s harder to see sometimes through all the tantrums and emotions.

  8. My babies are past this stage, but it really was a magical time watching them become real people and developing their personalities!

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