Fostering Emotional Development in Infants and Toddlers


00:00:01    Alyssa

You're listening to Voices of Your Village. This is episode 180. In this episode, I'm diving into how to build emotional intelligence in infants and toddlers. So often we get questions about what if they're not verbal yet or they can't tell me how they're feeling it. How does this look to start with our younger kiddos? This episode is for you, if those are questions that you have, when we researched the CEP method, we researched it with kiddos birth to five and I was teaching infant toddler at the time, my kiddos were primarily toddlers, 1 to 2, and I have been doing this work with kiddos from the get-go from birth, through toddlerhood into preschool years for a long time. It's absolutely something we can do with our younger kiddos and these foundations. When we lay them earlier are game changers for down the road, for our preschoolers for kiddos when they have words to be able to utilize language around how they're feeling and build their feelings vocabulary, I'm so excited for you to build these foundations with the infants and toddlers. So let's dive in. 


00:01:25    Alyssa

Welcome to Voices of Your Village, a place where parents, caregivers, teachers and experts come to support one another on this wild ride of raising tiny humans. We combined decades of experience with the latest research to create the modern parenting village. Let's dive into honest conversation about real parenting challenges, so it doesn't have to be this hard. I'm your host, Alyssa Blask Campbell. 


00:01:55    Alyssa

Alright guys, so often when we're talking about emotion coaching and how to build emotional intelligence in our kiddos, we're talking about kiddos who have verbal language, who are far enough along in their development, that their receptive language is pretty advanced and that, they're at a place where they can understand everything that we're saying to them, or at least most of it. And perhaps be able to express their needs or their feelings, or their desires and communicate with us with verbal language. However, we've been getting a whole bunch of questions about what this looks like for infants and young toddlers. Can we even do this work? Does it not start until later? All that jazz. So this episode we're going to dive in, we're going to dive into how to do this work with kiddos fresh out the womb, my research of the CEP method, the collaborative, emotion processing method, which if you're new here, I co-created the CEP method and we researched it across the US and just wrote a book on it that we're shopping to publishers now. But when we researched it, we researched it with kids, as young as four months, and my hub, for this, work is in infant toddler. You may have heard me say it, but 12 to 24 months is, I think the hardest age and also my favorite age. It's my favorite age to do this work, you can see so much growth and development and it can make such a difference in who the child is as a 2 3 4, 5 year old and beyond. When we lay this foundation for them birth to two. So let's dive into what this looks like. First of all, the biggest component here is us, the most important thing you can work on an infant toddler is pausing and breathing. So that you can respond with intention rather than reacting. This is so hard and infant toddler. Because often, they're crying, they're crying because they don't have the words to communicate otherwise, they're crying because they are trying to learn how to walk, and they fell down, they're crying because they're hungry, they're crying, because they're tired. They're crying because they want to get up, there crying because you walked away. They're crying and so often it's hard for us to regulate our cortisol response because your body is designed to mirror that emotion, they spike cortisol, right? They have cortisol running through their body when they're having a hard feeling and so you automatically your body spikes the cortisol, we're designed to mirror it, it's called mirror neurons. The key here is that it's not their job to calm down so that you can calm down. It's your job to regulate your emotional response so that you can show up and respond with intention. So that when they fall down as they're trying to stand up or take those first steps that you can respond and be like. Oh that's so frustrating. You're working so hard to walk and you fell down again man, that's hard. And then if they need a snuggle you can offer it. Would you like a snuggle before you try again? 


00:05:17    Alyssa

But when you can respond with intention there, when you can show them a, this isn't an emergency, I want them to know the difference in the tone of your voice between they fell down because they're trying to walk and they're running into the street, that those are two very different things and they should get very different responses when they're running into the street, I'm going into I'm not responding with intention. I'm reacting, my tone is going to be different. My reaction is going to be different, they might sense my fear and then also feel fear and to be honest that's what I want. I want them to feel fear if they're going to walk into the street, I don't want them to feel fear when they're learning where their body is in space. And there are stuck under that tiny human table and they're trying to get out and they keep bumping into their into the leg of the table as they're trying to figure out how their body fits through that space and they're getting frustrated, then I want to be able to respond with intention. Oh man, you've got stuck under the table. That's a small hole, how are you going to get out of there and then holding that space and not just going over and taking away the obstacle. So often in infant toddler, we can solve the problem for them. We're going to go back to the basics. Here, we know that the first phase of emotion processing is allowing them to feel. And so we have to hold that space where they get to feel frustrated where they get to feel annoyed, where they get to feel mad or disappointed. You're so disappointed. You wanted me to hold you and I have to set you down so that I can wash my hands. Man, it's hard to wait. Holding that space and validating their emotion lets them know. It's okay for them to feel. It starts to teach them what they are feeling, when we start to put labels to those emotions, they learn. Oh, I won't feel this way forever. And we can start to build some coping tools. So in infancy, we're largely still looking at coping mechanisms here because kids are really co regulating with us. They're going to fire off of our regulation, which is why it's so important for adults to have support and a toolbox to self-regulate. If every single time your child cries, you feel rush of anxiety that won't go away until that child stops. crying, then, what's happening is, it's becoming their job to regulate you, I know that's hard news to hear. There are tools, we have tools to support you. We dive into this in-depth at Mama's getaway weekend. We have tiny humans, big emotions membership. We have more podcast episodes here, we have tons of tools to support you but largely in infancy the focus is you learning to regulate your physiological response to their cry because you're designed to react. It is your job to keep this human alive. And so when they cry your body's like, oh yikes, what do I need to fix? Are they hungry? Are they tired? They need a diaper change. Are they sick? Like, it's your job to fix those things in to keep them alive. So, of course, you have that reaction, but in order to hold space for and respond with intention to their emotions, we need to work on regulating emotional reactions within ourselves. This all starts with awareness, it starts with being mindful, like, oh, that's where I feel it. For me, personally, when I'm feeling fear what we often call anxiety, I feel it first in my chest and then it will radiate through my body. It'll go up through my neck, my neck will get tight, and I will just like clench. And then it goes down through my legs, my body, I can like feel it radiate and everything inside of me is like make this stop, just make it stop. I've had to learn to be like oh I know that sensation I'm feeling afraid and then pause for me breathing is huge, closing my eyes and just breathing and I will use a mantra usually when I'm breathing sometimes it's as simple as like breathing in calm, breathing out fear. breathing in calm, breathing out fear. and then I can look over and be like, oh, you were working so hard at that or you're getting so hungry. Are you ready for a bottle? Let's go heat it up. Or man, you're so hungry. And this letdown is not happening fast enough. It really stinks when you're hungry and you have to work for it. But when you can let their body know, this isn't an emergency. That's a huge step in building their emotional development foundation. So through infancy that's what we're focused on, more focus on our own self-awareness and then starting to cultivate theirs. Identifying for them, what they are feeling? Or what you're seeing? Oh I see that your fists are so tight and you're hitting them on the ground. You're trying so hard to reach that toy. And you can't get it when you're sitting up. Oh, that's so frustrating. When your body won't move and you really want it to go. Or the kid who's trying to crawl forward, but they keep pushing backwards and they're getting further away from their goal, just validating that frustration, man, you're going backwards. You really want to get that toy. And every time you move your body goes backwards, farther away from it. What could we do? Would you like me to help you and helping you might be putting your hand behind their feet so they push off of your hand to go forward. Rather than pushing themselves back, they have a baseline to push off of, sometimes it might be slowly moving that toy toward them depending on their level of dysregulation and what you're working on with gross motor. But here we start to build, starting to build this awareness of what they're feeling that it's okay to feel. And then it won't feel this way forever that there are tools to help them move through it. The cozier you get with your emotions, the easier it is to support them through theirs. During infancy for coping, you also might be using tools like a pacifier or a lovey, mechanisms to help them soothe. That's ok, we will start to move away from mechanisms into strategies between 1 & 2. Cognitively it's really hard for a kid to tap into strategies to calm when they are infants. So fear, not that's fine. The only thing with a pacifier, That I want to note here past the newborn stage really past six months. Once a kid is regulated like, say you use it as a coping mechanism and then they find their calm and then they're crawling and they're back off to play. Then I want to take the pacifier so that they can work on other forms of play like they will put things in their mouth. That's a huge part of sensory play. They will start to babble. And coo and talk to you and they can't do that with a pacifier in their mouth and it's a huge part of communication. So I want to be mindful of that here is that if we were using a pacifier past six months, that it's not something they're walking around with or crawling around with just in their mouth just after just like because but that it's something that we use with intention. Also, when you close your mouth, your tongue rests on the back of your teeth and it helps regulate your central nervous system. When a pacifier is in your mouth, you can't do that. So, we can also be dysregulating for them if they are keeping that pacifier in their mouth consistently. When we're moving into our one-year-old, this is where language development is huge. And if we are slowing down and are communicating with them, we will see a huge spike in their language development. Here's a caveat, if they have gross motor delays, if they have any sensory integration or sensory processing challenges, they will likely have a language delay. If those aren't on the table, if there are typically developing, there aren't any sensory challenges and language is developing on target. And typically, we will see a huge burst, multiple huge bursts actually between 12 and 24 months. It's also a fantastic time to be working on emotional development language, because they can start to communicate with you. A little girl that I had starting at nine months old. I had her until she was about two and a half right around two years old. I had told her I had validated her feeling and said that she seemed really sad and she was like, I'm not sad. I'm mad. And that was at two years old, she could give me that sentence. And she was aware of what she was feeling because we'd been doing this for over a year. And so as you introduce this language and as you consistently are supporting them with an emotional vocabulary and library, they will start to use it. 


00:15:19    Alyssa

You can also check out episode 10 with a speech language pathologist, Sarah Friel, also she has a British accent so it's like a lovely episode to listen to but she gives lots of tips and tricks to help support language development. And how to communicate with kiddos starting in infancy. But also through early, toddlerhood and beyond that can help them build their communication patterns, I would absolutely if you are in that infant toddler world, like, please go listen to that episode next, episode 10. There's also on the blog post for that episode. So if you go to our website and you even just search like Sarah Friel or language development, whatever it'll pull up a the blog post for episode 10 and she created a language development, freebie guide for you guys. That's there too. So you can snag that bad boy. But as you're working on language development here, give them credit these tiny humans understand so much more than we give them credit for. I want to be talking to them all the time, not to the point of overloading them, but I'm going to narrate my day. I'm going to let them know what's coming next, I'm going to when they start crying and throwing their milk cup. I'm going to say uh, it looks like your milk is all gone. Oh man, instead of throwing your milk or instead of throwing your cup, you can say more milk and I will use sign language or gestures for more milk. Letting them know what they can say instead. So here, I'm continuing to build their awareness of your frustrated, that's why you're doing that, instead of throwing this. Here's what you could do. So sometimes, when we're in this infant toddler stage, what appears as a behavior or emotional expression, Is really this inability to communicate what they want to communicate with verbal language. And so as we support them with that, and man, I would start using sign language quite young like in early infancy to start to build, they will develop their fine motor skills, their ability to sign or use gestures before their verbal language. So using that consistently can be huge. I have had kiddos signing back to me at nine months old because we've consistently used signs. It can happen quite young, when they are having those like huge tantrums because they're not going to get what they want. Also, welcome to the rest of life. In these instances, we are going to follow the five phases of emotion processing. Just like we would for older kids except in Phase 2 instead of asking them how they're feeling. We're going to connect and empathize again over what they're feeling. So say, they really wanted to try and scoop something themselves and you did it for them. Oh man, I didn't realize you wanted to do it yourself and I did it for you. So frustrating when you were expecting to do it by yourself and I did it. Just connect with them, let them know you totally get where they're coming from and then here's the kicker guys, this is where your life will be a game changer. So will theirs as a two, three, four year old, five year old and beyond this is the same. Also, if you're just starting this work and you're like okay I'll tune in to see what she says, but your kiddo is older. This answer is the same for older kiddos too while they are whining or crying. It's not a time for talking about the problem. So they come up to you and they're using like a whiny voice. They're not ready to talk about the problem, you can validate still and then man, I cant understand your words with that voice. How can I help you feel calm. So that we can solve this together. Would you like a hug so that we could figure this out together? Would you like to do five big jumps before we figure this out, together? I'm going to give them two options. Would you like a hug? Would you like five big jumps? Would you? If you have the time and space would like to read a book, would you like some space? Would you like to dance? Would you like some squeezes, which might be like some deep tissue, like, muscle work where you're going to like squeeze their legs or their arms or giving them sensory input here. That helps regulate their central nervous system and process that cortisol so that they're ready to problem-solve. if we offer up something like a screen, or a snack when they're not actually hungry, then we're not giving their body the tools that it needs to process that cortisol. Instead we're temporarily numbing it but the cortisol still exists in the unprocessed emotion just lives beneath the surface or ready to explode again. 


00:20:31    Alyssa

So the key here is that we are offering coping tools, two options if they don't come in for the hug. Then I'm going to say, okay I'm going to give you some space. If you need my help to feel calm, I will be in the living room in the kitchen. In my bedroom, I'm happy to help you feel calm when you're ready guys. I did this work with kiddos who were one-year-old 12 to 24 months. I know how hard it is to walk away from the child, who is having a tantrum because we can fix it. I almost always know exactly what they want or need and I could fix it. I can make the whining stop, I could make the crying stop, but then guess what happens? Every time they have a hard emotion, you validate and you're like, why do they keep whining? I can't stand this whining voice, because that's how they think this works. They think, oh, I whine or cry to this human and then they solve this problem for me and we have to build a different pattern, our routine for them different habits. So that when they whine or cry we validate and then we offer a coping strategy to help them feel calm and then once they're calm then we can solve the problem. So once they're calm and regulated, then I'm going to say man you were working so hard to build that tower and it crashed. Would you like to try again? Now we can move forward and problem-solve, I was teaching in a classroom with young toddlers and this little girl was building with Magna tiles and she was about 20 months and her magnetile tower crashed somebody bumped into the table she was building on and it crashed. And I got down on at her level to emotion coach her and she turned and she slapped me across the face. The only kind thing I could say in that moment was I'm going to go to the bathroom. It was my job in that moment to respond with intention and I wasn't regulated enough to do so. She knows she's not supposed to hit me, she knows that it hurts me. It's not her first choice. In fact I know her heart does not want to hurt me. I know that in her dream world, when she feels frustrated or disappointed, she's able to find her calm and not hurt, somebody around her. Just like you as an adult when you yell or scream, or make a mistake, you react, instead of respond, you usually feel like garbage afterwards. We usually call it guilt, but you have a hard feeling afterwards. It's like, oh, I didn't handle that the way I wanted to kids feel that same thing when they turn and they hit you, it's not their first choice. But in that moment, I'm like, what? I just got slapped across the face. And so I go to the bathroom. I have mantras on my phone. I look at, I find my calm. I know when I go back in that room she might want a hug to feel calm and it's real hard to hug someone who just slapped you across the face. So I have to be calm enough and ready to emotion coach her and potentially provide a hug. Needless to say, I go back once I'm calm and ready, I emotion coach her. She did want a hug once she's calm and I can you can feel it in your arms when they like release. It's like and I was like, oh babe, I'm so sorry that happened. Would you like help rebuilding your tower? I might ask. Are you ready to try again? Now we're problem solving but not in the moment it's also not a time for law enforcement or delivery of justice, later, way later, I might say something along the lines of man when you're feeling frustrated when your magnetile tower crashes and you're so disappointed about it, instead of hitting me you could stomp your feet, you could jump up and down. You could, I'm now giving the her things that she can do instead of hitting me but not in the moment. We're talking about that jazz later any time we're seeing a behavior, I know we have this desire to like not condone the behaviors and so we want to make sure that we shut down the behavior. But really, what a what's going on beneath the surface is an emotional need and then an unmet need at the core. And if we can respond to the emotions beneath the surface, you'll stop seeing those behaviors, when kiddos can learn what to do with frustration or disappointment? Heck, when we, as adults can learn what to do with it, what's your reaction when somebody cuts you off? What's your reaction when your partner says something sassy or snippy to you? Because they're annoyed? What's your reaction? When somebody does something that isn't what you want? What's your reaction? When you expected something? And something else happens? We can't expect more from these tiny humans than we have ourselves. Our goal here is to start to build our own awareness, so we can respond with intention and help them build their awareness. So that they have the choice of how to respond if they aren't aware of what they're feeling and how it feels in their body. They can't pause and choose to stomp their feet instead of hitting you, they will react instead of responding with intention. And as you do this work, you'll notice how stinkin hard it is to build in that response time. It takes awareness first, and it won't be perfect, they're practicing and learning this. So, all throughout the day, they're going to make mistakes and we get to support them through it. And look at it and say, like, man, what are they still working on? What can I still help them with? What are they communicating with me about what they still need support in. Maybe they really struggle with what to do when they're feeling scared, great, we can start to talk about what helps you feel calm when you're feeling scared. And a lot of the times here, I'm not expecting a verbal response from them. I'm going to ask that question and then I'm going to say, hmm, sometimes when I'm feeling scared, I like to blank and I'm giving them suggestions here. The biggest thing we can do guys is to model and to talk to them to give them the benefit of the doubt, of understanding this Jazz. Someone reached out recently that their kiddo kept having these tantrums in the grocery store. And I was like okay let's pre-teach when you're going in let them know when we get into the grocery store. We are going to get in the cart and you can hold my list. We have to go get things for dinner and then we're talking to them throughout the trip, like, oh, what's next on the list? Let's take a look. Looks like we need bananas. Let's go find some bananas. We find the bananas, we put them in. Hey, we found the bananas. What's next on the list? Oh man, we have to find some milk. Can you help me? Find the milk? I'm talking to them were narrating what we're doing so that they feel included, they feel part of the process, they know what's going on and she was like, oh, do you think they'll understand that they're only 14 months, their not going to understand every single word you say but they're definitely going to start to build their language development as we're saying these things and then they connect, oh, these are bananas, this is milk. This is what we're doing next. I feel a part of the process. So often we just go through the days and go through transitions without talking to them, without letting them know what's coming up and what we're doing and what's coming next. And when we can give them that heads up, even if they don't have the expressive language yet to respond to us with a sentence or even a word, they understand so much more of what we're saying than we usually give them credit for and then they will start to one word at a time, produce that language, they will start to all of a sudden, you'll say, where are the bananas and they'll say banana and you'll be like what the crap it will start to happen. But only if we are initiating that and bringing them into the fold here. All right, so you're going to go tune into episode 10 and we have an episode coming up for you about the phrase "Use your words" and when kids can access what language because we don't all have access to all of our language all the time. So I think that one will be helpful to and then we also have episode 63 on emotion coaching for emotion processing. Go check that out. I talked a lot about what this looks like, in infant toddler. And Lauren, the co-creator of the CEP method talks a lot about what this looks like for preschool/Pre-K. Okay, so you'll hear examples for both in there. All right babe, you've got this. Thank you so stinking much for parenting with intention, for showing up and building an emotional development tool box with and for your tiny humans. That's how we're going to change this world together. Do me a favor and screenshot you tuning in to this. Share it over on Instagram tag, I would love to come give you a virtual hug. See where you're tuning in from. I want to dm with you and hear what your favorite takeaways were and what are some things you still have questions about? You are not alone on this journey. All right, babe. See you over on the gram. 


00:30:16    Alyssa

Thanks for tuning in to Voices of Your Village. Check out the transcript at Did you know that we have a special community over on Instagram hanging out every day with more free content? Come join us at Take a screenshot of you tuning in, share it on the gram and tag to let me know your key takeaway. If you're digging this podcast, make sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode. We love collaborating with you to raise emotionally intelligent humans.


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