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Five to Thrive Toddlers

Building Blocks for Healthy Brains

Everyone wants the best for their toddler; neuroscience shows us that you can do five simple things, every day, to nourish their growing brain:

“As I get older, take notice of what I am trying to say to you. Help me to tell you how I feel, so that I learn to manage my feelings by talking about them” (Five to Thrive)

Your bouncing baby becomes a terrific toddler around the age of 12 months. Your toddler’s brain has reached an exciting but demanding next stage of growth.

The neocortex (‘upstairs brain’) is making trillions of connections, driven by your toddler’s constant investigation of the world around them. Your toddler is more mobile, enjoying doing more by themselves, and their communication is starting to increase through the appearance of many single words and gestures. You will notice that although they are happier to leave your side and explore, they still show you they need you when something is tricky or they want to celebrate what they can do! By the age of 3 years, your toddler’s brain will have reached around 90% of its adult size.

It’s not surprising that with all this busy growth activity, you will notice your toddler becoming frustrated at times with whoever or whatever gets in their way of having what they need (or want).

Being able to understand how other people might feel is not a skill they have yet mastered. Brain development at this stage still has some way to go before your toddler is able to fully able to express their needs in a way that is easy for you to understand and for them to manage; so this can be a testing time for you too. Just remember that the lower parts of the brain still very much dominate, so you will see strong emotions and feelings acted out.

Toddlers’ strong emotions and feelings can often show through in physical behaviour, like throwing things when angry or excited. This is their way of ‘speaking’ to you and is perfectly normal at this age and stage of development. You may have heard others call this a tantrum, attention seeking or the ‘terrible twos’ stage. This language for our thinking can be unhelpful. If you think about this more as distressed behaviour , it will help you as a parent to be responsive to your toddler’s needs in a kinder and more comforting way. It’s never too late to change the way in which we parent.

When you respond in a compassionate way, it reduces stress hormones (cortisol & adrenaline) in both you and your toddler. This helps to keep things calm and shape your relationship. Toddlers crave your love and attention - they want to be connected.


When your toddler is showing you that they are finding it hard to let you know how they feel, it will help them if you:

  • Remember behaviour is communication… what might your toddler be trying to tell you?
  • Think about them as a little person who needs your support and connection – RESPOND with empathy
  • Look positively at attention seeking as your child wanting to ENGAGE in a relationship with you
  • RELAX ... remain calm, actively listen, and give eye contact at their level
  • Use PLAY as a means to safely explore emotions
  • TALK to them so that you are giving them the words to eventually be able to express themselves

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