There is just so much going with toddlers at this age. Cognitively they know exactly what they want but verbally they just can’t get it out so they have a temper tantrum: scream, cry, throw themselves as a way to communicate their upset. How you respond during a temper tantrum will be key in reducing them, calming them and working towards tools to help the communication. Elisa and Pam work with a lot of families with these exact challenges and we have a few ways you can help your child:
1) Teach your child an easy tool: sign language.
Toddlers know what they want but can’t always communicate their needs or wants. Teaching them a few basic words in sign language will help your child communicate with you even when they can’t verbally express themselves. We did all of the basics: milk, water, help, all done, more, please, thank you. The help one was one of the best ones as it gave them the voice to ask for help when their frustrations were getting the best of them. It is something I taught all of my own children as well as my daycare children and it was a life saver! Check out this video for a few sign language basics.
2) Acknowledge the upset.
If your little one is crying or screaming or having an emotional breakdown, it is for a reason. It may not always seem like a valid reason to us, but to them it is. If we try and stop the meltdown, if we distract them or plug them with a soother, we are telling them that their feelings are not valid. All that does is pushes it further down so the next minor thing that comes along, totally upsets them again!
3) Allow them to have their feelings.
Let them kick and scream and cry and be upset but be sure to set limits – “You can be upset but you are not allowed to hit me” The thing is, little people are no different than us. If you have had an awful day when your partner comes home you start to vent and he brushes you off with a “you’re fine, it’s not a big deal, you should hear about my day…” Pretty infuriating isn’t it? When a child is upset because someone took the toy they were playing with, or because mom had to leave, if a sibling hit them or if they wanted a toy in the store and you said no, they will vent! They will tell you how upset they are by means of crying, screaming and throwing a tantrum. Let them vent. The more opportunities we allow our children to offload their emotions, the more emotionally healthy they will become.
Encourage emotional offloading.
Your first step when dealing with an emotionally charged child will be to take a deep breath and try and stay as calm as you can. Remind yourself that they are crying for a reason, that you want to support them and that they will be comforted by your reassuring presence. Your goal isn’t to stop the crying; you want them to release those emotions and heal from them.
Crying is healing. When you can think of crying as a child’s way of communicating and not a behaviour that needs to be stopped, you will have a better understanding of what your child needs and more patience to deal with it.
Handle the temper tantrum by:
- Getting down to your child’s level.
- Make eye contact and perhaps offer a comforting hand on their shoulder or holding of their hand if they allow it.
- Tell them they are safe and it is okay. Tell them that you understand and that you are there and are listen to their feelings.
- You really want your presence to be the calming effect and not the distraction of your words so speaking intermittently instead of constantly will be key. Short and quick reminders only.
- Ride it out.. It can sometimes take a long time for them to offload those emotions, especially if they have been bottled up for a while. If you can, get comfortable and remind yourself over and over again why you are doing this and how much better your child will feel afterwards.
Our roles as parents is to support them through these upsets, not to stop or solve them all.
4) Take care of yourself too.
It’s also really important to know that as you support your little one through their emotional needs, you need to take extra care of yourself. Take time throughout the day, after bedtimes, whenever, to do something for yourself to re-energize. Parenting with connection and supporting those emotions is so hard and draining on us. When you are using this approach, self-care and taking time to re-energize is so, so very important. Having someone you can talk to about it can also make a big difference. It is a learning process for both you both. But just remember: To fill someone else’s tank, you need a full tank first!
Read more about emotional offloading in this blog post.