As a parent coach and family therapist, one of the questions I get a lot is how to help young children manage the BIG feelings that often come up. Toddlerhood often brings meltdowns or tantrums, and parents struggle with how to respond to these in a helpful way.
Here are my biggest tips for helping you and your toddler through these big emotions:
1. Stay calm! The most important thing is for YOU to remain calm as the parent. A dysregulated parent can’t calm a dysregulated child! Practice some breathing techniques, pause and take a short break if you need to, and make sure you tend to your needs so that you can be available to respond to your child.
2. Use less language. When a young child is in a meltdown, the part of their brain that uses language, communication, and problem solving is “offline” and the emotional center of their brain has taken over. They won’t be able to take in what you are saying, even if they otherwise have good language skills. This is not the time to try to explain, reason, or problem solve.
3.Validate how your child is feeling and help them name emotions. Remember that your toddler’s brain is still immature, and they don’t have the same perspective or experience as you do as an adult. Use empathizing statements like, “You really wanted that toy”, or “You don’t want to leave the park”, or focus on naming feelings like, “You are so mad!”
4.Try to determine an underlying reason for meltdowns. Often toddlers melt down because they are hungry, overly tired, needing attention or affection, or feel overwhelmed, not because they are trying to be “naughty”.
Prevent meltdowns before they start. Often giving warning before transitions, using songs or a transition item, having a consistent routine, and making sure needs are met will help things go more smoothly.
5. Distract and re-direct. I don’t always recommend this, because you don’t necessarily want to get in the habit of distracting your child from their feelings. Crying is healthy and normal. However, if your child is focused on doing something you don’t want them to and getting upset over it, try shifting their attention to something else. Re-direct them to an appropriate activity, start being silly and engage them in something else fun.
Remember that meltdowns and tantrums are normal and that they don’t mean you are a bad parent or your child is a bad kid! Tantrums are part of toddler development as young kids start to build more independence. Work with them, help them learn to soothe and calm, and you and your toddler will make it through this phase!
About the Author:
Kaleigh Boysen-Quinata is a family therapist and parent coach at Family Roots Therapy. Her mission is to help parents learn to support their children's emotional health and create stronger relationships with their children. She teaches workshops and runs groups for parents on using Positive Discipline parenting tools in their home.
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