Toddlers…such beautiful, spontaneous and adorable little humans that are capable of carrying such BIG feelings! If you’ve come here at a loss as to how to handle their emotions, you’re in the rigth place.
What cause toddler tantrums/meltdowns?
FIrst of all before digging into the meat of this post and providing you with solutions, I think it’s important we try and understand WHY the meltdowns, shouting and crying DO happen from a psychological and developmental perspective:
It’s Important to note that toddlers, although they’re quite grown up to us in comparison to the baby we once knew, have very similar basic needs as babies do:
BASIC TODDLER NEEDS
- Hunger – toddlers burn energy very quickly….
- Sleep – we’ve all seen the effects of an over-tired baby, same for a toddler
- Protection – back when we lived in the wild this would mean….now what it means is….
- Love – they need to know that even though they aren’t always perfect that they are worthy of love
- Structure – kids thrive off predictability
While these are simple, they’re super important for an environment where your toddler can thrive.
So the first thing I would say to do is address these needs:
With that said, let’s dig into the main points:
1) Detach love for your toddler from their behaviour
The first concept I would say is, we need to detach the love that you have for your toddler from their behavior. And vice versa, you know, because this puts across the message that if they do something well then the reward is love.
And we I think we often fall into this trap when we say things like ‘Good, that’s great, good girl’…
And we use a lot of positive things rather than being specific, for example: ‘I love how you picked the blocks up for me today, that really helped me’. what the toddler then does, is learn that certain behaviours cause us to suddenly wrap them up in love.
If they don’t do these behaviours, then they are reprised of love. What happens in later life is then we become people pleasers and over givers that need to do things to get that love back. (I should know, I’m a recoverer from this!)
Rewarding good behaviour with love for your child develops a people-pleasing response
Now this is just a pattern that we repeat in relationships until we learn it. So if we can, be aware of this already when we’re parenting our own toddlers, it’s really helpful.
If you think about it, we don’t decide to love a baby more or less depending on their cries – we love them because they are our children. So the idea of detaching this really takes us away from the feeling that in the same way, good behaviours equal love.
When we shift the behaviour, from being subjective to impartial, it really helps take our relationship as mother and child or father and child to a different level.
How do we work towards non-reward systems?
Although this is a subject for an entirely different post, I will mention a few things I do apply personally (even if I’m still learning and putting this into practice):
- Reframe your view of what discipline is (hint: in this case it does not refer to behaviourism) – this is a great article here which explains more
- Don’t be afraid to set limits – even if this means your toddler will cry and get upset (we often avoid this because we don’t know how to handle the big emotions)
- Find motivations outside short-term reward systems – taking the time to explain life skills and walking through them is worth it
- Become an authoritative, rather than dictating
These are some suggestions you can start to use to create a space where emotions are welcome and worked with rather than shut down in fear.
Most of us are naturally afraid of where emotions can take us, so this then becomes our reflection in our children. If you think about day-to-day conversations, as adults we have become accustomed to responding with ‘I’m good’ responses, we wear a sort of mask unintentionally. Toddlers don’t wear any mask, so you see the extreme of what’s going on in their world all the time.
2) Become an empty container for holding their emotions
Okay so until now we’ve discussed the importance of allowing emotions to come to the surface as this teaches them emotional intelligence and resilience –
You need to empty your own emotions to be able to hold space.
I wouldn’t hop on a client call without having first looked at my own needs a mental capacity to hold space and to receive the emotions of the other person- in the same way, you can’t really expect yourself to be able to be an empty container if you’ve got a lot in your head already.
How to become an empty container
When we haven’t met our own needs, as mothers – as women, it’s much easier to be triggered. And that comes down to knowing your own basic needs, what is it that you need every day to feel centred?
Don’t know what your own needs are any more? Grab my mini guide below, which gives you prompts to find out.
How do I recommend clearing your head?
My favourite thing to do is start in the morning with a little dedicated ritual. I know, you’re all going to tell me, ‘What are you talking about in the morning? I don’t have any time in the morning! You know, I just get up and roll out of bed and start my day. ‘
I know, I know. I’m not saying that you have to dedicate your time to a two-hour yoga and embodiment ritual. No mama has time for that, frankly.
I’m saying you need to take time just for you – five minutes here and there to gather yourself, have a coffee in peace, listen to music…let yourself be.
The more you do this in small doses, when you make it a ritual to tune into your needs, the easier it becomes to hold space for your child’s emotions.
Check in regularly
Make it an intention to do regular check ins with yourself during the day, and ask yourself questions like:
- How am I feeling?
- What is my body telling me?
- Is my breath short?
- Am I thirsty?
- Where am I holding tension?
These might sound like really primitive things, but that we often forget about because we’re in our head thinking about other things -too busy to just take that time to check in. I can’t stress how vital is it to your mental health to know where you’re at.
My Free Mini Guide again shows you how to do this step by step.
3) Release the need to control your toddler’s emotions
I feel that we feel like we have to make our kids happy. And it’s important for our kids to be happy, of course. But ultimately their happiness is not our responsibility. That’s quite frankly, a huge weight to put on yourself.
They can’t be happy all the time. It’s okay to have sad emotions, to feel angry. It’s okay. It’s okay to cry. That’s something I always taught my toddler because the more you allow those emotions, the more you allow space for them to go through it and get to the other side and feel happy and feel inner peace because they know how to deal with those.
I mean, of course we want to make sure they’re safe and happy and loved but allow them to process too.
We are not our emotions. Often we push the emotion down and try not to feel it because we’re scared of where it will take us. However, we need to know that we are not our emotions.
I recommend taking time to explain emotions to your child. Do some explaining with maybe visual charts around the house, books are also amazing for integrating more deep subjects with your toddler.
Let them know that it’s safe to feel, explain that there is no light without dark.
Locate the emotion
To be able to move through the emotion itself, sometimes it’s useful to identify where in their body they’re feeling it.
Children will frequently complain of a tummy ache when they’e stressed – this is because of the mind-gut connection, that is much stronger in childhood (though some of us, like me continue to feel everything there!)
Locating the emotion also reduces the fear behind it because they can see it as something tangible, with a possible remedy or way out.
It also allows you to recognize patterns of stress in your toddler’s body and be able to discern big emotions in the future by observing their physical state.