From Infant to Toddler: A New View of Toddlerhood

Over the past many months, our newsletter has provided an overview of what we called “The Revolution in Infant and Child Development.” We emphasized three key issues, namely, new understandings in the areas of Feelings, Language, and Intelligence.

We now turn to a specific phase of development: the transition from infant to toddler.

And what overarching perspective shall we use? Let’s use one which focuses not only on behaviors but rather on what causes the behaviors. And what causes behaviors? Feelings. Feelings motivate us. Feelings lead to actions, to behaviors. As an aside, this is a real dilemma for our society, which tends to focus on behaviors rather than the causes of behaviors.

So, we want to understand what goes on inside of young children — what their internal world is all about. This involves what is called a psychoanalytic perspective: a desire to understand what people are feeling and thinking that leads them to behave as they do.

What Do Infants Bring

And what do infants bring to this transition to toddlerhood? Over the past several months we highlighted three crucial attributes of infants:

Feelings — infants are born with a signaling system through which they express their built-in feelings.

Ready to Relate — babies are not passive blobs, they are relating with people and their environment as soon as they are born.

Intelligence — infants are stunningly smart. They explore and learn about the world very actively. Furthermore, they understand language long before they can talk.

What Do Toddlers Bring

What is crucial to understanding toddlers? Most of the transition from infant to toddlerhood can be subsumed under three items: Mobility, Self-Awareness, and Language. In The Happiest Toddler on the Block, my colleague, Michael Karp, uses an unfortunate metaphor: toddlers as cavemen. In actuality, we know now that toddlers are stunningly smart, remarkably eager to learn, and extraordinarily capable.


The transition from infant to toddler is fascinating. It is marked by three elements: mobility, self-awareness, and language. Over the next several months we will explore each of these in detail as we seek to understand this important phase of development.