Humans are not born with a concept of self. In fact, infants do not make any distinction between themselves and their primary caregivers at first (usually the mother). Can you imagine a time before knowing the difference between ‘Me’ and ‘You’? Crazy, I know. But that’s where we all begin: with no separation, no ego to speak of.

For the uber-young, the world is about three things: getting physical and emotional needs met, and trying to make sense of the constant stream of sensory stimulation. Their social interactions revolve entirely around these concerns. Over time, babies form a more defined sense of self and figure out a bit about what they can and cannot control. (When I giggle he smiles; when I cry I get milk etc.)

When an infant’s needs are met consistently, they gain a sense of security that becomes the foundation for later social and psychological development. Physical affection, the sound of important voices (mommy, daddy) and safely exploring their environment are crucial to this end.

Crawling is cute and gets them more mobile, and then before you know it… they’re taking their first steps.

Toddlers are amazing creatures. Their ever-growing abilities to walk, talk and manipulate objects in their environment give them a much greater sense of independence compared with the helplessness of being an infant. Toddlers can actually meet some of their own needs, which is both exciting and empowering. Parents often have the experience of their toddler wanting to be held and cuddled one moment, and then demanding to be put down or to do something by themselves. This is good! The apparently random neediness helps them know they are loved and safe, while the freedom to venture out, explore and exert their independence builds self-confidence. Though parents can sometimes feel like they’re riding a yo-yo, these are signs of healthy development.

In a toddler’s mind, meeting their own personal needs and desires comes first. Period. They are entirely at the mercy of their intense emotional experiences, and have practically no self-control. Though adults (and older children) can find this selfishness and impulsiveness aggravating, it’s a normal part of growing up and should be handled with love.

Keep in mind that toddlers are constantly experimenting with how their actions affect the people and things around them. Their driving question in life is What happens when I do this? Kids learn tons about physical and social boundaries during this stage, though the lessons can take a long time to integrate.

Oh, one last thing: toddlers engage in something called ‘parallel play’, where they play alongside other children but are not working together or trying to achieve a mutual goal. Toddlers will often play next to (but essentially ignore) one another, unless they both want the same toy – then watch out! This type of play is great, and lays a foundation for future friendships and cooperative play.

Listen to funny stories about kids discovering themselves & the world – the Podcast page is coming soon!

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