Did you know that 87% of 18-24 month olds have at least one tantrum per day? And that number goes up to 91% of 2.5-3 year olds? (Source) These significant expressions of unknown feelings, emotions and developmental milestones are real and frequent. As a toddler, your child is experiencing big feelings being expressed in their little bodies. As a parent we are experiencing these moments when we are tired, stressed, over worked, and full of our own emotions and challenges.
So how can you prepare for these moments? How can you help your toddler navigate these very real, very important moments? We have drafted the Top 5 Tips to help you and help your toddler migrate through these VERY big feelings.
The Top 5 Tips to Help Manage Big Feelings
Remember your child's brain is not working like yours. When you have an emotional reaction to a situation you are cognitively aware that it occurs. You may have a big feeling and react with that emotion and you can understand it at the same time. Your toddler is not yet equipped with that ability. Your toddler's reaction, outburst, flailing of arms and legs is not about you or the actual cause of it either. Their brain is still developing and how you help them process this is building the foundational blocks that will impact them throughout their life course (source).
Do not control the situation... let them express their feelings. This is the hardest part and one that I have been successful and failed at. When you are in the restaurant and your kid, in that moment, is connecting to their raw emotion and whatever sparked the reaction, is now screaming about milk vs. lemonade.... let this process and let this happen. You are there to guide them and help them cope. If you can, help them through this rather then an abrupt exit. Your toddler should not be shamed by their reaction. This is your opportunity to build their brain network and how to handle this next time. (this is is easier said then done!).
Provide ample time for your toddler to prepare. An abrupt "time to go" exit is the recipe for disaster. Imagine if your parent now or a friend grabbed your arm and just declared, 'it's time!'. Give notice to your toddler about the upcoming change. Remind them again that it's almost time to go. Prepare them for the change with information. Be ready for the challenge and transition moment.
Consider everything that is going on. The Milavetz Law Firm provides a great summary of the impacts of Divorce on children in their mental health, wellbeing, social interactions, etc. This is just one example of a significant and transformational change in a child's life. The change of divorce, moving, a new family member, a loss of a family member and other significant moments are challenging for an adult - for a child they do not fully understand what is happening and yet they feel it.
Use movement, books and distractions. In the seconds before you lose your own cool - grab a book, jump up and down on the sofa, start playing music, start dancing - do whatever you need to pull your kid back to focus. Help them realign their brain and emotions so you can speak to them. This often does not take long and is well worth even just the little silly activity level needed. The Whole Brain Child is a fantastic book that goes indepth into brain development and how to engage your kid.
Whatever you need to do - do it. Be there for your toddler. They are experiencing such major moments every day and harnessing so much new information with it.