Experiences where children feel happy, safe and challenged lead to increased motivation to learn.

Relationship Between Cognitive and Emotional Development In Toddlers

by Melissa Gagnon

Your toddler's emotions can change as quickly as the weather. One minute she's a ray of sunshine and the next a flood of tears over being offered the wrong snack. As frustrating as it can be to help your child juggle her ever-changing emotions, learning to handle emotions in a positive way helps toddlers become secure with their emotions. Emotional security has a large impact on a toddler's cognitive development and early learning experiences. Weather out the emotional storm for the well-being of yourself and your toddler.

1. The Connection Between Emotions and Cognition

Your toddler is screaming, kicking, red in the face and you can't seem to calm her down, not even by offering to read her favorite book. This is because emotions and feeling are created in the brain -- the same place where cognitive processes are carried out. Neuroscientists have found that feelings and thinking patterns affect the brain's development, and therefore emotional and cognitive development are not independent of one another. Emotions and cognitive ability in young children both influence the child's decisions, memory, attention span and ability to learn.

2. Positive Emotions and Cognition

Your toddler lifts the flap inside of a new book you're reading and spots a funny picture. She laughs, and so do you. This positive experience created by shared, happy emotions motivates her to lift the flap on the next page. Children who feel a sense of pride, happiness and accomplishment while learning a new skill are excited to continue to learn new things. Provide experiences for your child that help her feel calm, safe and challenged. These positive emotions will inspire your toddler to learn and will improve her ability to think, focus and make decisions -- all important aspects of cognition.

3. Negative Emotions and Cognition

Your toddler is anxious and can't sit still. She isn't going to sit down to play with a toy or to listen to a story because her emotions -- anxiety, maybe fear, and nervousness are preventing her from focusing on anything else. As a parent, you want to give your toddler the help she needs to deal with these difficult emotions so she can relax and spend time playing, reading and interacting with others. Because cognitive development is linked to emotions, toddlers who often experience negative emotions may fall behind cognitively. This is not to say your toddler should never feel sad, angry or scared, it just means as a parent, you want to help your toddler through these emotions in a positive manner. Toddlers who experience negative emotions on a regular basis due to hardships at home or school have a hard time focusing, thinking and making decisions.

4. Fostering Positive Experiences

Which would you rather hear when you're upset -- "Stop that! Stop crying!" or "I'm sorry you're upset, come here and let me hug you." Your response to your child's emotions affects her emotional development. Children whose caregivers are sensitive and understanding to their emotions develop security and learn to regulate their own emotions in a positive way. Learning to deal with her emotions is important to your toddler's well-being, both emotionally and cognitively. Children who are brought up in a safe, caring environment and who have nurturing caregivers are provided with a positive and challenging opportunity to learn.

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