What is the First-Year Crisis in Childhood Development?

Kate Chered
5 min readDec 22, 2023

Childhood development is a journey of numerous milestones and challenges. One significant milestone that often puzzles and worries parents is the first-year crisis, a phase typically emerging around the age of one. This period, characterized by noticeable changes in a child’s behaviour and habits, is integral to growing up.

Understanding the first-year crisis involves recognizing it as a natural part of a child’s developmental trajectory. It’s not just a phase but a critical period of growth and adaptation. The child’s increased need marks the first-year crisis for independence, coupled with the frustration of being unable to communicate or navigate their environment fully.

What Are the Telltale Signs of the First-Year Crisis in Toddlers?

Identifying the first-year crisis involves observing specific behaviours in your child. Common signs include:

  1. Increased stubbornness and disobedience: Toddlers often feel they can do everything independently and resist guidance or restrictions.
  2. Mood swings: Frequent changes in mood and seemingly unwarranted aggression can be a sign.
  3. Contradictory behaviours: A child may exhibit conflicting actions, like hugging and then hitting or demanding a toy only to discard it.
  4. Emotional sensitivity: Increased instances of crying or tantrums, often with no discernible cause.
  5. Separation anxiety: A marked fear of losing sight of the mother, often described as being a “mommy’s tail.”

These behaviours are a child’s way of navigating their newfound sense of self and independence. They’re not just acts of rebellion but are indicative of the child’s internal struggle to understand and adapt to their evolving capabilities and limitations.

What Causes the First-Year Crisis in Childhood Development?

The root causes of the first-year crisis are multifaceted, involving both psychological and physiological factors. Around the age of one, children undergo significant developmental changes. They start walking, exploring more actively and becoming increasingly aware of their surroundings. However, their desires and impulses are often met with parental restrictions, leading to frustration and emotional outbursts.

This phase is akin to a personal revolution for the child. They are grappling with their emerging sense of autonomy, yet they’re constrained by their limited motor skills, communication abilities, and dependence on adults. This dichotomy creates a tension that manifests as the first-year crisis.

How Long Does the First-Year Crisis Last and How Can Parents Navigate It?

The duration of the first-year crisis can vary. Typically, it begins around ten months of age and can last up to six months or even a year. The key to navigating this challenging period lies in understanding and patience.

  1. Offer choices: Allow your child to make simple decisions. This fosters a sense of control and independence.
  2. Maintain a routine: A predictable routine provides a sense of security.
  3. Encourage communication: Even if your child can’t speak, encourage non-verbal communication.
  4. Be patient: Understand that your child is not acting out of defiance but rather exploring their autonomy.
  5. Stay calm: Your calmness can help soothe your child’s emotional turbulence.

During this time, parents must adapt to their child’s growing need for independence. This doesn’t mean letting the child do whatever they wish, but rather guiding them with empathy and understanding their developmental needs.

What Should Parents Avoid During the First-Year Crisis?

Navigating the first-year crisis also involves understanding what not to do. Avoid:

  1. Overreacting to behaviours: Understand that these behaviours are a normal part of development.
  2. Forcing independence too quickly: Allow your child to grow at their own pace.
  3. Neglecting emotional needs: Be responsive to your child’s emotional states.
  4. Overprotection: While keeping them safe, allow some freedom to explore.

Should Parents Fear the First-Year Crisis?

The first-year crisis, while challenging, is not something to fear. It’s a natural, necessary part of a child’s development. By understanding and responding appropriately to this phase, parents can help their children navigate it successfully, laying a foundation for healthy emotional and psychological development.

The first-year crisis is a critical developmental phase. It demands patience, understanding, and a balanced approach from parents. Recognizing the signs, understanding the causes, and responding appropriately can make this a significant growth and bonding period between parents and their children.


How Can Parents Recognize the First-Year Crisis?

Parents can recognize the first-year crisis by observing specific changes in their child’s behaviour. Key indicators include increased stubbornness, mood swings, contradictory actions like hugging then hitting, emotional sensitivity with more frequent crying or tantrums, and a heightened fear of losing sight of the parent. These signs emerge as the child grapples with their growing independence and limited ability to communicate or navigate their environment.

What Are the Primary Causes of the First-Year Crisis?

The primary causes of the first-year crisis are rooted in the child’s rapid developmental changes around the age of one. This includes physical milestones like starting to walk and increased cognitive awareness of their surroundings. Simultaneously, parental restrictions often curtailed their emerging desires, leading to frustration. This tension between a child’s growing autonomy and dependence on adults is the central cause of the crisis.

When Does the First-Year Crisis Typically Begin and End?

The first-year crisis typically begins around ten months of age and can last for six months to a year. The duration varies from child to child, depending on their individual development and the environment in which they are raised. The transitional phase significantly shifts the child’s cognitive and emotional development.

Where Should Parents Focus Their Efforts to Help Their Child During the Crisis?

During the first-year crisis, parents should focus their efforts on providing a supportive and understanding environment. This includes offering choices to foster independence, maintaining a routine for security, encouraging non-verbal communication, being patient with the child’s exploration of autonomy, and staying calm to help soothe the child’s emotional state. Parents should aim to guide their children with empathy and understanding of their developmental needs without overreacting or overprotecting.

How Should Parents Respond to Their Child’s Emotional Outbursts During This Time?

Parents should respond to their child’s emotional outbursts with calmness and understanding. Recognize that these outbursts are a normal part of the developmental process. Offer comfort and reassurance, and try to understand the underlying cause of the emotion. Patience and a calm demeanour from parents can significantly help soothe the child’s emotional turbulence.

Originally published at https://beingmotherhood.com on December 22, 2023.