As our little ones head towards turning two, you will often hear phrases such as ‘two-year-old tantrums’ and ‘the terrible twos.’ Sounds like something to look forward to, right?
Big emotions in toddlers are completely normal, and are a natural process of toddlers starting to develop the ability to regulate their own feelings. Put simply – at this stage in their life, toddlers truly believe the world revolves around them!
What’s important to understand is that children save their most passionate emotions for the people they are closest to (generally mum and dad), because they are their safety net. Your toddler knows that no matter how much they cry, scream or tantrum, they are still loved, and you are still there for them. This can explain why they are often so well behaved at childcare or with a grandparent, but will have a full-blown meltdown the minute you walk into the room.
My number one tip for dealing with an emotional toddler is ensuring they are getting adequate amounts of sleep. It seems obvious – even as adults, we tend to be more on edge when we haven’t had enough sleep, but a good night’s sleep can make a huge difference in your little one’s overall mood.
Additionally, we need to ensure our reaction to their tantrum is measured. Before we become upset and frustrated when our child is having a tantrum, it’s important to remember that big emotions are actually healing for our little ones. If a toddler is having a meltdown in the presence of someone who isn’t going to distract them from their emotions, it gives us the opportunity to validate their emotions by reassuring them that “I know you are angry” or “I can see you are frustrated”.
Brushing off their emotions, possibly sending them to time out, trying to get them to focus on something else or even giving them what it is you said no to initially so that they stop crying, is sending that subconscious message that big emotions are ‘not OK’.
Comparatively, as an adult, if you were experiencing heightened emotions, no one would ask you to stop crying, or to go to another room to cry. The release of those big emotions can take a weight off our shoulders – it decreases tension and stress, and our little one’s deserve the chance to do that too.
The difference here is that we adults do have the ability to regulate our own emotions, but our little ones do not. By staying close and giving them a chance to express themselves, we build trust and acknowledge that their feelings are valid.
I personally believe that tantrums are better out than in! If a toddler hasn’t had that chance to offload, you might find they end up being unable to deal with them at all.