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Parents, is it right when you expect toddlers to control their emotions ?

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A national survey shows most parents believe their toddlers have the capacity for more control of their emotions than is developmentally possible at their age.

By Melissa Willets

Later, after the crisis moment passes, and her head stops spinning around like she's in an exorcist movie, and I've jumped through hoops to appease her (she got the chocolate after time-out failed), I'll remind myself, "She's only 3." And it turns out I'm not alone in expecting too much from my little one.

Early childhood resource group ZERO TO THREE recently conducted anational Parent Survey, Tuning In, and found most parents overestimate young kids' ability for self-control, something they call the "expectation gap."

Matthew Melmed, executive director of ZERO TO THREE, elaborates on the implications of the survey's findings, saying, "Having realistic expectations for a child's ability is critical for supporting healthy development and minimizing stress for both parents and that child." He added in the press release, "For example, if a parent thinks a child is capable of greater self-control than he actually is, it can lead to frustration for the parent and possibly more punitive – rather than supportive – responses."

Um, guilty.

Other results of the survey show:

  • 56 percent of parents believe kids have the impulse control to resist the desire to do something forbidden before age 3.
  • 36 percent believe that kids under age 2 have this kind of self-control.
  • 43 percent of parents think kids are able to share and take turns with other kids before age 2.
  • 24 percent of parents believe kids have the ability to control their emotions, like resisting tantrums when they're frustrated, at 1 year or younger.
  • 42 percent believe kids have this ability by 2 years.

Here's the truth:

  • Self control actually develops between 3½ and 4 years, and takes even more years to be used consistently.
  • Sharing skills develop between 3 to 4 years.
  • Emotional control also won't develop until between 3½ and 4 years.

In light of the survey, Melmed offers this advice to parents: "The early years are about teaching, not punishing. When parents have realistic expectations about their child's capabilities, they can guide behavior in very sensitive and effective ways."