Take a second to imagine that something incredible just happened to you, but when you open your mouth to tell someone about it, you realize you don’t have the words to share what you’re experiencing. Next, imagine that you are wholly dependent on someone else to meet your every need--you don’t have the ability to feed yourself, clothe yourself, or even bathe yourself. Finally, imagine that for the first time you are experiencing emotions--anger, sadness, frustration, joy, excitement, and fear, and you have no idea what’s going on! There is a saying that put things in better perspective “toddlers aren’t giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time”. The lessons they will learn about regulating emotions during toddlerhood are tools they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. Here are a few pieces of advice on helping your toddler learn to cope with emotion.
Kids at this age often learn best through modeled behavior, so resist the urge to yell or lose your cool in the middle of a tantrum. Let them in on the fact that moms and dads have emotions too, and that that’s okay. Make telling your children how certain things make you feel a regular occurence in your household. When kids know that when mom feels angry, she doesn’t start screaming, but likes to take a minute for herself and then come back to the situation, it shows them that emotions aren’t quite as scary.
Give them the Words
Toddlers don’t have huge vocabularies to be able to tell you how they’re feeling. Research has shown that children who are able to express how they feel are better able to deal with those feelings. One way to teach them these words is to use them often. This may mean telling your child “I can see that you’re frustrated” or “that would make me sad too”. If your child isn’t quite ready to learn these words, toddlers often find it easier to use colors to describe emotions (e.g. red representing anger, blue sadness, and so on). Camryn Wells has a great series of children’s books called the Color, Feel, Play series that would be great to invest in! You as the adult can still use emotion words, but giving your child a few easy words they may already know to describe how they’re feeling can be incredibly empowering.
Help them Cope
How many of you heard things like “that shouldn’t make you upset” and “you shouldn’t feel that way”? Phrases like this send the message that there’s something wrong with a child’s emotions, which they have little to no control over. You can validate their emotions without accepting their behavior. Let them know it’s okay to be upset (or red if you’re opting for using colors), but not okay to hit. Then, give them some acceptable coping mechanisms, like walking away, throwing a pillow at a wall, taking deep breaths, etc.
Offer Some Control
The last piece of advice is to offer choices and some control when it’s available. Toddlers literally have no control over their surroundings, and that can be frustrating and scary in and of itself at times. So whenever possible, give your toddler choices, such as “Do you want to wear this or this?” or “Do you want to pick up your toys now or in five minutes?” to allow them some control. This can help prevent some of the tantrums and struggles in the first place.