Working Through Strong Emotions With Toddlers

The toddler stage is a time when our little ones are being bombarded with new emotions from all angles. These emotions can be strong and bewildering to their fragile minds, and often become overwhelming, resulting in meltdowns and behavioural issues. Pent up frustrations can lead to an angry child who is difficult to cope with, and who struggles with any boundaries put in place.

So how can we help our children through these tough times?


Often when have parented our children gently, and in line with the principals of attachment parenting, we are wary of letting them cry. Certainly, in the early days, leaving a newborn to cry goes against all of our instincts, and indeed it should. But newborn babies have very few needs in the grand scheme of things. Generally, a warm body to be held against, a breast to suckle regularly, an interesting and stimulating adult to watch, and appropriate treatment for any conditions such as colic or eczema, is about all they need to thrive. But as they get older, life becomes more complicated. When a toddler discovers his independence and gains the confidence to make decisions for himself, it is near impossible not to have to intervene at times, and say no. I truly feel that this should be done as little as possible, and we as parents should respect our children’s wishes and the fact that these choices may be different from the ones we would ideally make for them. However, there will be times where it is just not safe for us to allow them this freedom. On top of this we have to factor in over-stimulation, growth spurts leading to more frequent hunger, changes which rock the child’s stability such as new siblings joining the family, noticeable shifts in the family dynamic and perhaps a parent returning to the workplace. All of these things are hard for little minds to bear, and the result is an emotional meltdown.

When things seem to be rocketing out of control and our toddlers become angry or aggressive, our first thought is often – “How can I stop this?”

It is a valid question, but the answer is, there are no quick fixes. You may be able to distract them right now with a breastfeed, a cuddle, a different toy or view, but those emotions are simply being pushed down to just below the surface. This means, that the next thing that upsets him, will likely tip him right over the edge. You know when you ask your little one to come and get his shoes on and a 45 minute tirade ensues? This is the result of pushing those emotions down and distracting away from them.

But although distractions certainly have their place, whenever possible, we need to be embracing these emotions head on and not afraid to let our children cry.

When the crying begins, rather than telling them “It’s OK”, or “You’re alright” just give them the chance to explore these emotions. You don’t have to talk them out of what they are feeling, and the reality is that to them, it really isn’t OK. Instead of trying to stop the crying, we can support them in what they are feeling. Name those feelings as they arise – frustration, anger, disappointment – and stay with them through it all offering supportive arms for them to cry in to. Let your child decide when to stop crying. We adults know the power of a good cry, how it can release all that pent up tension we have been holding inside, making us feel lighter and more relaxed afterwards. Our children need an outlet for these feelings and if we don’t let them release these emotions through supported crying, then they will have to come out in other, less healthy ways.

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It can be so difficult to see our children experiencing these painful emotions, and it is understandable that we want to end this suffering and get our happy smiling child back again. But it is far less painful and more healthy, to be there for them while they let go of their tension, so that they can learn to understand what they are feeling and how to cope when things become overwhelming. Once the emotions have been embraced and recognised, we can let them go and move on with an open and happy mind.

You can find out more about parenting gently through the toddler stage from my book, Trust Me, I’m A Toddler!

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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