Your Child's Brain in Week 92
If you remember way back to your child's sixth month last year, you might recall when he began to sense conflict among the people around him. Maybe the fights you had with your partner, born from new-parent exhaustion and frustration, seemed to make him fussy, or conversely, caused him to silently stare at the both of you.
These days, your toddler's sensitivity to nearby emotions has heightened. As his empathy develops, he becomes even more susceptible to the feelings expressed by people around him, regardless of whether they're directed his way. In fact, negative emotions, in particular, can affect your toddler's behavior significantly these days. Just as you protect your child from smokers passing by, you also need to protect him from secondhand negative emotions. Here's why.
What the Research Shows
Over a nine-month period, researchers and parents observed and noted the emotional responses of one- to two-and-a-half year-olds who witnessed their mothers pretending to have an angry phone conversation. While the moms in this simulated scenario were able to compose themselves normally after the chat ended, the aftermath was much more dramatic for their children. Not only did they respond with anger and distress, themselves—crying and showing expressions of concern for their mothers—but they also hit, pushed, scolded, and yelled.
Interestingly, their behaviors weren't directed at anyone in particular: The toddlers weren't always necessarily mad at their nearby parent or sibling, but instead the toddlers might hit a toy, shove a wagon, scold a doll, or simply yell. The behaviors in the study didn't last for a long time or reoccur, nevertheless it was apparent that the children picked up on and acted out the angry emotion their mother had been expressing when on the phone.
Week 92 Brain Booster
In short (and you've heard this fact before, we know), young children who witness conflict are profoundly affected by it. Even if the conflict isn't directed at them, and even if they don't react while the distressing scenario is unfolding, exposure to negative emotions causes undue stress, which in turn can interfere with healthy brain development.
It is so important for the behavioral health of your toddler for you to work on your relationships so that affection, happiness, bliss, interest, and care are the overriding emotions in your home, and that episodes of anxiety and frustration are few and short-lived. Just as you'd spare a guest from experiencing an explosive conversation between you and your partner—for both courtesy and privacy's sake—so, too, should you try to err on the side of refraining from lashing out in front of your child. Your toddler can only tolerate brief, infrequent exposure to unrestrained anger; even then, his behavior might be affected.