From tantrums to kicking and biting, parents often face the dilemma of coping with their toddler's challenging behavior. Helping your toddler understand and express emotions may reduce behavioral problems later on, revealed a new study.
Lead investigator of the study Holly Brophy-Herb, professor at Michigan State University in the US, said, "Our findings offer promise for a practical, cost-effective parenting strategy to support at-risk toddlers' social and emotional development and reduce behavioral problems."
The research was part of a larger study funded by a grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services. It involved 89 toddlers (ages 18 months to about two years) from low-income families. Mothers in the study were asked to look at a wordless picture book with their toddlers. The book included many emotional undertones as illustrations depicted by a girl who lost and found a pet.
Brophy-Herb and her co-researchers focused on mothers' 'emotion bridging' with the child. That involved mothers not only labeling the emotion (for example, sad) but also putting it into context and tying it back to the child's life. During a follow-up visit with the families, about seven months later, the research team found fewer behavioral problems in the higher-risk children.
Brophy-Herb said, "This might be because emotion bridging acts as a tool through which toddlers can begin to learn about their emotions and gradually learn simple words to express emotions, needs and wishes, instead of acting out physically. Helping young children understand emotion should be an ongoing, long-term strategy."
Researchers suggested that parents can talk to their children about emotion just about anytime, on a short car trip home, for example, or even standing in line at the grocery store. Brophy-Herb said, "Over time, these mini-conversations translate into a rich body of experiences for the child."
The findings were published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.