In The Emotional Life of the Toddler, the child-psychology and psychotherapy expert Alicia F. Lieberman details the dramatic triumphs and tribulations of kids ages 1 to 3. Some of her anecdotes make the most commonplace of experiences feel like they should be backed by a cinematic instrumental track. Take Lieberman’s example of what a toddler feels while walking across the living room:
When Johnny can walk from one end of the living room to the other without falling even once, he feels invincible. When his older brother intercepts him and pushes him to the floor, he feels he has collapsed in shame and wants to bite his attacker (if only he could catch up with him!) When Johnny’s father rescues him, scolds the brother, and helps Johnny on his way, hope and triumph rise up again in Johnny’s heart; everything he wants seems within reach. When the exhaustion overwhelms him a few minutes later, he worries that he will never again be able to go that far and bursts into tears.
“If adults experienced and enacted the full range of feelings available to an average toddler in the course of a day,” Lieberman writes, “they would collapse from emotional exhaustion.” But Lieberman doesn’t view this range of emotions as the toddler’s downside. She sees toddlers as complex, compassionate human beings, and she has dedicated her life’s research to helping adults understand the feelings and the logic behind the most seemingly ridiculous or wild toddler behaviors.
Lieberman first published The Emotional Life of the Toddler in 1993, and it has since become known as a seminal guide to life with young kids. The book’s publishers asked her if she wanted to celebrate the book’s 25th anniversary with a second edition. They asked if she had anything to add, and after following new developments in both parenthood and toddlerhood over the past few decades, she did. Lieberman recently spoke with me about the second edition of her book, out this week. She discussed what’s changed in the past 25 years—including revelations in child psychology, growing societal acceptance of gay parents, and the omnipresence of technology—and what’s stayed the same. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.