Self-centeredness in the second year

Are all toddlers a little obsessed with themselves? The short answer is yes. Self-centeredness spikes in the second year, and many of the more difficult behaviors that are associated with toddlerhood (including self-centeredness) are really just byproducts of your child’s normal, healthy development.

What it looks like

At this age, Baby might display a few of the following behaviors.

  • Possessiveness: If your toddler has a hard time sharing things, or straight up refuses to share or wants to grab things from adults or other toddlers, they are displaying some serious possessiveness. Toddlers are only just learning about what the concept of ownership is. Eventually, this understanding will help them become better share-ers, but it might take a little while.
  • Self-absorption: Baby may not be very good at considering other people’s emotions when they act a certain way.
  • Impulsivity: This can be a positive trait; who doesn’t like a little spontaneity every now and then? But a toddler, impulsivity can mean throwing shoes at your head or dumping a bowl of food on their own head. Sometimes you may find yourself totally baffled at how little self control Baby seems to possess.
  • Short-tempered: You might notice Baby getting impatient or frustrated quickly. They might not grasp the concept of time very well, either, and have a tendency to treat five minutes like five hours.

Where it comes from

It all boils down to the toddler’s developing brain; specifically the prefrontal cortex, which manages self-control. At this age, Baby doesn’t have a very well-developed prefrontal cortex. This means it’s a little harder for them to share with others and control their impulses. This will change in time; one study published in Neuron suggests that by the age of six, these skills are much better developed.

So to recap: because their brain is still developing, Baby might struggle with things like the concept of ownership, politeness, empathy, and general self-control.

How to handle it

Now, just because there’s a whole developmental factor at play doesn’t mean that you have to wait a few years to teach Baby good behavior. It just means that you’ll need to be extra patient and understanding when Baby does something that is destructive, or makes absolutely no sense. Patience and consistency are the two most important factors at play here. If you repeat certain lessons over and over again, and keep them consistent, you’ll be much more successful in helping Baby become better behaved.

When you notice Baby acting impulsively or without self-control, act right away.

  • Point out the inappropriate behavior to Baby, and communicate in a few words why it’s not okay.
  • Try to get to the root of the problem by asking questions to figure out if Baby needs something they are not getting.
  • Always try to encourage Baby to use words to describe their feelings, because this helps them start to understand feelings – both their feelings, and others’, too.

If you’re ever concerned about your toddler’s impulsivity, don’t be afraid to talk to their pediatrician, because they can give you some advice specific to Baby.

At the end of the day, take these behaviors in stride, and don’t stress too much. While self-centeredness in the second year may be frustrating, it’s a developmental stage, so with your guidance and a little more time, Baby will grow out of it. Too bad we can’t say the same for self-absorbed adults!

  • “Toddler Social/Emotional Development.” UEN. Utah Education Network, n.d.
  • Nikolaus Steinbeis, Boris C Bernhardt, Tania Singer. “Impulse Control and Underlying Functions of the Left DLPFC Mediate Age-Related and Age-Independent Individual Differences in Strategic Social Behavior.” Neuron. 73(5):1040-1051. Web. Mar 2012.
  • “Helping toddlers learn about emotion.” Ahaparenting. Dr Laura Markham, 2017. 
  • Claire Lerner. “Helping toddlers understand their emotions.” PBS. PBS, Aug 13. 
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