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How Playing With Toddlers Develops Their Emotional Intelligence

Play helps your child learn important life lessons.
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Helping your child develop emotional intelligence is one of the most valuable gifts you can give as a parent. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, express and regulate our emotions and moods, to have self-knowledge, self-acceptance and resilience to the knocks of life. It is also the ability to empathise with the feelings of those around us and understand their motivations. More than IQ, EQ (or emotional intelligence quotient), will determine the quality of your child’s life and their future happiness, because there is such a strong correlation between emotional intelligence and the ability to form and maintain relationships, have an innate self-confidence and bounce back from adversity.

Your child’s emotional intelligence begins with their relationship with you: they take their cues from you.

Toddlers learn best through play, whether it’s working out a problem and mastering a new skill (for example, making a pattern of yellow and black building blocks) or play-acting out strong emotions (telling their teddy off for being naughty and then giving him a cuddle).

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So the most effective way for your child to develop emotional intelligence is through play, with you as their guide, giving them your total attention and enjoying having fun together. Joyful playing with your toddler can be woven into your everyday moments together, from morning snuggles to bath time bubbles.

True, they can play with, or alongside, friends and siblings. But playing with your child is a gift for you, and there are certain kinds of play, like horsing around and trying out their own strength in a safe environment, that toddlers do best with an adult they trust.

“The key is not to be too controlling and let your child have the freedom to take the lead, responding to them but encouraging independent play too,” says Nicola Butler, chair of Play England.

“Be specific with your praise, give them eye contact and respond to their cues. Give them space for messy play - painting, water, sand, all the play bricks emptied out on the floor - and don’t be too keen to tidy everything away too fast.”

Here are just some of the ways playing helps your child become more emotionally intelligent...

Physical horseplay with lots of tickling and giggling

What your toddler learns: That they are loved unconditionally (essential for their self-esteem), that they can release pent-up emotions with laughter and energetic wrestling and that they can trust you.

Imaginative games

What your toddler learns: That play is a great way for them to ‘play out’ emotions. Toddlers experience big feelings on a daily basis - they may feel angry, sad, frightened, jealous - but they don’t yet have the tools to process those emotions or even the words to describe how they’re feeling. Emotionally healthy kids can use play to resolve those feelings, pretending to be someone else and using puppets, dolls, teddies and the dressing-up box (and often no props at all so fertile are their imaginations at this age) to play out scenes and feelings. Your child may want to give you an important role (telling Teddy off for being mean to Dolly for example), or they may be happy for you to be close by. Make sure you take your cues from them; there are no rules, no right or wrong prescribed way to play in these sort of creative games.


Building a tower with building blocks

What your toddler learns: That they are capable of making something all by themselves. Young toddlers will need you to show how to fit one brick on top of the other (start them off with a My First set from LEGO® DUPLO®), but as they develop in confidence and experience they will become more confident building precise and taller towers. And knocking them down, of course, ready to be rebuilt! Puzzles and any sort of sorting games, which you can show your child and then ease back from as they become more able to do it by themselves, will also aid your child’s self-confidence, concentration and problem-solving resilience.

Messy play with water and sand, finger painting

What your toddler learns: Through hands-on experience (modelling, squelching, pouring, finger paddling) your toddler is learning what happens to different substances and how they are capable of controlling them with the own creativity. Toddlers learn through all their senses, so it’s important to give them as many sensory play opportunities as possible. A happy and engaged toddler is the first step to a happy and emotionally intelligent adult.

With its chunky bricks and bright colours, LEGO® DUPLO® is the perfect introduction to LEGO® for toddlers and your Partner in Play, helping you on your mission to develop your children’s imagination, nurture their emotional intelligence and have fun every time you play together.