2.5–3 years old: Emotional development

2.5–3 years old: Emotional development

Your toddler’s emotional development at 30–36 months old. Follow your toddler’s milestones step-by-step.

Emotional development allows children to understand, express, and manage their emotions as they grow. Children also develop the ability to recognize and interpret the emotions of others, which helps them build relationships with those around them.

Emotional development: 2.5–3 years old

At this age:

  • Your toddler is better able to tolerate separations because they understand that you’ll be back, even after an unusual absence.
  • They’re more comfortable around strangers and may even talk to them if you’re nearby.
  • They have a better understanding of rules and are more open to compromise.
  • They may complain, act out, refuse to cooperate, or show concern when a major change in their routine upsets them.
Remember that not all children develop the same skills at the same speed. The material on this website is for general information purposes only. If you’re concerned about your child’s development, speak with a doctor.
  • Your toddler may get scared when they see something new, like an unfamiliar animal, or when another child is frightened (e.g., when their older brother cries during a lightning storm).
  • They’re increasingly able to understand and respond to the feelings of other children. For example, they may comfort a crying friend by patting them on the back.
  • Your child is beginning to use words to express how they feel. They may react strongly if they feel misunderstood.
  • They may wake up at night or become upset if they have a nightmare.
  • They want to be more autonomous and do things on their own, but often need help from an adult.
  • Your toddler seeks out encouragement and the approval of others. They like to feel acknowledged and may react strongly if they sense that someone has overshadowed them.

Over the next few months, your child will begin to do the following:

  • Mimic certain emotions when playing make-believe with other children.
  • Get excited about doing an activity they’ve done before.
  • Stomp their feet, cross their arms, or gesticulate when they’re upset.
  • Do their best to verbally express their disagreement and frustration.
  • Share their fears and ask for reassurance (e.g., monster under the bed).
Find out how to support your child’s emotional development through books.

How can you help your child progress?

Every child is different and develops at their own pace. That said, you can help foster your little one’s development by adopting the Comfort, Play, and Teach parenting approach, which can easily be integrated into your daily routine. The table below outlines small, age-specific actions you can take that will benefit your child’s emotional development.

When your child is upset and you react with openness, understanding, and acceptance,
they learn that they can confide in you without fear of rejection.
When you praise your child for their achievements and independence by saying things like, “Wow, you put your puzzle away all by yourself!”
they learn to trust in their abilities and be perseverant.
When you warn your child about a big change that’s coming (e.g., a new teacher) and talk about how they’re feeling,
they take comfort in knowing what to expect and learn that their emotions are normal and valid.
When you sing the song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” changing the lyrics to include different emotions (e.g., “If you’re grumpy in the morning, stomp your feet”),
your toddler learns what words and behaviours are associated with certain feelings.
When you show your child pictures of people expressing different emotions and talk to them about these feelings,
they become aware of other people’s emotional states.
When you encourage your toddler to do activities with other caregivers,
they become more comfortable with the idea of being separated from you.
When you read stories about emotions to your child,
they get to ask questions and learn more about them.
When you encourage your child to think about how others feel in certain situations,
they gradually develop empathy.
When you display your child’s daily routine, decorated with fun drawings or stickers,
they feel comforted and learn to anticipate future events.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Chloé Gaumont, M.Sc., psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: December 2020


Photo: GettyImages/FG Trade Latin



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  • Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. “Emotional Development in Childhood.” September 2011. www.child-encyclopedia.com
  • Ferland, Francine. Le développement de l’enfant au quotidien : de 0 à 6 ans. 2nd ed., Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2018, 264 pp.
  • Shaffer, David, et al. Developmental Psychology: Infancy and Childhood. 5th ed., Quebec, 2019, 613 pp.
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Your child’s development: What to expect.” www.caringforkids.cps.ca
  • Sunderland, Margot. The Science of Parenting: How Today’s Brain Research Can Help You Raise Happy, Emotionally Balanced Children. DK, 2008, 288 pp.
  • Université de Montréal. “Portail enfance et familles : Les étapes de développement de l’enfant de la naissance à l’adolescence.” www.portailenfance.ca
  • Zeanah, Charles H. Jr., editor. Handbook of Infant Mental Health. 4th ed., Guilford Press, 2018, 678 pp.