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Toddler Separation Anxiety and Other 2-Year-Old Social Milestones

Shahrzad Warkentin
June 23, 2017

Learn how to navigate the tricky waters of your 2-year-old's social development.


As your baby turns 2 years old, she's officially reached the halfway point of toddlerhood. Along with steadier legs and an adorably sprouting vocabulary, she is beginning to develop many new social behaviors. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), social developments at this age include toddler separation anxiety, defiant behavior, a growing sense of independence and imitating other people's behavior.

MOMS ALSO READ: Guide to developmental milestones for kids  

What Should You Expect From Your 2-Year-Old?

Though not all children are affected in the same way, many 2-year-olds begin to show signs of separation anxiety -- even if they didn't as babies. Your child might be suddenly reluctant to go to school or day care or to be left with caregivers. Bedtime might also become tricky because your child has a hard time falling asleep without you close by. Tearful separations can be difficult and stressful for both you and your child. Luckily, the AAP says that most kids outgrow toddler separation anxiety by the time they turn 3.

Is "no" your toddler's new favorite word? Age 2 marks a time when your baby can become more defiant and independent, says the AAP. Your child is just beginning to understand that she's a separate person from you and wants to take some control. Still-developing skills, such as language expression and comprehension, can also make things challenging for your child. "There is definitely a level of frustration if a child doesn't have language, which can lead to a lack of understanding between parents and children," explains Jessie Ginsburg, M.S., CCC-SLP, the director of clinical services at Pediatric Therapy Playhouse.

At age 2, you'll also find that you have a small copycat on your hands. Two-year-olds begin to mimic adult behaviors or things that older children do. Imitation is a major milestone because it aids in the development of important skills, including language and social skills. "For example, children at this age like to pretend they are reading," says Dr. Robert Myers, Ph.D., a clinical child and adolescent psychologist at the Child Development Institute.

How Can You Give Your Child a Helping Hand?

Although separation anxiety makes some days really stressful, there are plenty of steps that you can take to make the transition easier on both of you, Ginsburg explains. These include counting down to the time you're leaving, always telling your child that you're leaving instead of sneaking out, and keeping goodbyes short and confident. In other words, even if you feel your own anxiety kicking in, don't let your little one see it. "Whatever you do, remain consistent," Ginsburg says. "If you tell your child that you're leaving, make sure you follow through. Any inconsistencies, such as deciding not to leave because your child is upset, are only going to make the next time you leave harder on your child."

When dealing with defiance, try to implement a routine so that your child knows what to expect. "Defiance in general has a lot to do with inconsistent rules," Ginsburg says. With a routine in place, your child can anticipate what's coming next, and transitions become less difficult. It's also important to encourage independence and give your child as many opportunities to have some control as possible. "Encourage them to practice self-care, like brushing teeth and dressing, with as little help from you as possible," Dr. Myers says. "Praise them and give helpful directions."

You can use your child's love of imitation to encourage other developmental skills. Talking to your child about everything you see and do is important for language development, Ginsburg says, but it's also critical that you allow him to engage and respond in his own way. Showing your child how to perform tasks and activities, rather than simply speaking instructions, is also important. Reading, for example, won't develop for a while -- but you can start to lay the foundation now through imitation. "Read to them and then ask them to tell the story," Dr. Myers says. "Use a singsong voice as you read, breaking words into long syllables."

From a social perspective, the aptly named "terrible twos" can be one of the most challenging years for parents. But with the right strategies and lots of patience, you can help ease your child and yourself through the more difficult stages.

For more on toddler development,  check out this  Overview of Milestones From 24 Months to 3 Years .




Shahrzad Warkentin is a freelance writer with several years of experience covering topics such as parenting, health and lifestyle. She is a stay-at-home mom in Los Angeles.

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