Mitcham Nursery

Building Emotional Intelligence in Toddlers

Emotional intelligence plays a vital role in a child’s overall development, and the early years are a critical time for building these essential skills. As parents, we have the opportunity to shape and nurture our toddlers’ emotional intelligence, equipping them with valuable tools to navigate their emotions and build healthy relationships throughout their lives.

But what exactly is emotional intelligence? It refers to the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s own emotions, as well as to empathize with and relate to the emotions of others. By cultivating emotional intelligence in toddlers, we empower them to express their emotions in healthy ways, develop empathy for others, and establish strong social connections.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence in Toddlers

Emotional awareness

During the toddler years, children begin to experience a wide range of emotions but may struggle to understand and express them effectively. As parents, we can support their emotional development by helping them identify and label their feelings. This involves:

  1. Naming emotions: Teach toddlers the names of different emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and excitement. Use simple and relatable language to describe these emotions.
  2. Recognizing facial expressions: Encourage toddlers to observe and identify different facial expressions associated with various emotions. Use mirrors or picture books to help them recognize these cues.
  3. Validating emotions: Let your child know that it’s okay to feel a range of emotions and that all emotions are valid. This validation helps them understand and accept their feelings.

Emotional regulation

Toddlers often struggle with emotional regulation, as their developing brains and limited language skills make it challenging for them to express and manage their emotions effectively. As parents, we can guide them in developing healthy emotional regulation techniques, such as:

  1. Calming strategies: Teach toddlers simple techniques to calm themselves when they feel overwhelmed or upset, such as deep breathing, counting to ten, or hugging a stuffed animal.
  2. Identifying triggers: Help toddlers recognize situations or events that may trigger certain emotions. By identifying these triggers, they can learn to anticipate and cope with them proactively.
  3. Encouraging expression: Provide a safe space for toddlers to express their emotions. Encourage them to use words, drawings, or play to express what they are feeling. Avoid dismissing or minimizing their emotions.

Strategies for Building Emotional Intelligence in Toddlers

Modelling emotions

Toddlers learn a great deal through observation, so one of the most effective ways to build their emotional intelligence is by modelling healthy emotional expression. Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Expressing emotions openly: Verbalize your own emotions in front of your toddler, explaining why you feel a certain way. For example, say, “I feel happy because we’re spending time together.”
  2. Managing emotions constructively: Show your toddler how you handle difficult emotions in a positive and healthy manner. Demonstrate techniques like taking deep breaths, talking about your feelings, or taking a break when needed.
  3. Problem-solving aloud: When facing a challenge or conflict, think aloud to demonstrate how you approach problem-solving while considering emotions. This helps your toddler understand the connection between emotions and problem-solving.

Emotional vocabulary

A rich emotional vocabulary equips toddlers with the tools to accurately identify and communicate their feelings. Try these strategies to expand their emotional vocabulary:

  1. Labelling emotions: Provide specific words to describe different emotions. Use books, pictures, or everyday situations to help toddlers associate words with feelings. For instance, say, “You seem frustrated because you can’t find your toy.”
  2. Reading emotion-focused books: Choose books that explore emotions and discuss them with your toddler. Ask questions about how characters might be feeling in different situations.
  3. Creating emotion charts: Make a visual chart displaying various emotions and their corresponding facial expressions. Encourage your toddler to point to the face that matches their current emotion.

The Benefits of Building Emotional Intelligence in Toddlers

Building emotional intelligence in toddlers has numerous benefits that positively impact their overall development and future well-being. Here are some key advantages:

  1. Self-awareness and self-regulation: Developing emotional intelligence helps toddlers become more aware of their own emotions and triggers. They learn to recognize and understand their feelings, leading to better self-regulation and the ability to manage their emotions effectively.
  2. Improved social skills: Emotional intelligence nurtures the ability to empathize with others and understand different perspectives. Toddlers who have strong emotional intelligence are more likely to develop positive and meaningful relationships with their peers, siblings, and caregivers.
  3. Enhanced communication: When toddlers have a strong emotional intelligence foundation, they are better equipped to express their emotions and needs using words. This leads to improved communication skills and reduces frustration caused by the inability to effectively communicate their feelings.
  4. Conflict resolution and problem-solving: Emotional intelligence provides toddlers with the skills to navigate conflicts and solve problems in a constructive manner. They learn how to listen to others, consider different viewpoints, and work towards mutually beneficial solutions.


Building emotional intelligence in toddlers is a significant undertaking that yields lifelong benefits. By understanding and nurturing their emotions, parents can equip their little ones with the essential skills needed to navigate the complexities of life and develop healthy relationships.

Through strategies such as modelling emotions, expanding their emotional vocabulary, active listening, emotional validation, and problem-solving, parents can create a supportive environment that fosters emotional growth in toddlers.

This foundation in emotional intelligence promotes self-awareness, self-regulation, improved social skills, effective communication, conflict resolution, resilience, empathy, and long-term mental well-being.