Helpful Tips for when Your Child has Big Emotions•
Posted on April 16 2021
So, your infant has become a toddler and now you’re moving into the challenging times of the “Terrible Twos.” I’m sure you’ve already been preparing yourself for the changes that would begin happening during this time as your child starts to become more independent and grow into their personality. With all of that growing comes new challenging emotions which can be difficult for parents to handle at times. Here are some helpful things to keep in mind with these changes:
Challenging emotions are a good thing
It may not feel like it in the middle of a meltdown, but challenging emotions are actually a good thing and are part of typical development. Having tantrums are how children communicate a need or frustration. When kids experience tantrums, they are learning how to self-regulate their emotions. When they are infants, they co-regulate with their parents. As they grow and become older, part of having these challenging emotions is learning how to manage these emotions themselves. If kids never experience difficult emotions, they will never learn what to do when they have them as teens and adults.
Temper tantrums decrease as kids age
Between the ages of one and three, kids are still learning how to regulate their emotions. It’s during this learning period that they have the most tantrums. When kids are around five years old, there is often a steep decrease in the number of tantrums kids have per day. This means that kids will go from having tantrums several times per hour to having fewer tantrums per day as they age.
What can parents do to help kids regulate their emotions?
- Give kids plenty of positive attention for doing positive things. Giving kids specific praises and smiles for things that you like that they are doing may prevent tantrums in many circumstances.
- Offer parent-led choices. Giving kids some choices can also be helpful for preventing meltdowns, but we want the choices we give to kids to be acceptable to parents. For example, offering your child apple juice or orange juice can help provide them with some control.
- Acknowledge their emotions. Verbalizing their emotions, such as saying, “You’re feeling really angry right now” will help kids learn to label their own emotions so that they can better express them as they get older.
- Understand the cause of the tantrum. Is your child hungry or tired? Or are they trying to get your attention? Similarly, did you just set a limit with them which made them upset? Understanding the cause of the tantrum is important for knowing how to proceed.
- If the tantrum is for attention, limit your attention to it. This may be hard to do, but it’s important for kids to learn that tantrums are not a way to get their parents’ attention. If you know your child is having a tantrum for attention, do your best to ignore it until they begin to calm down. Then praise them for calming down so they know how to get your attention.
- Teach coping skills. It’s important for kids to learn how to use coping skills, but they usually can’t learn them during a moment where they are dysregulated. Try practicing new coping skills before bedtime like deep breathing. This will help kids be better able to use these skills during times where they’re having big emotions.
If your child is having difficult emotions, it’s helpful to know that this is a good sign, and it means they are learning how to express themselves. As a parent, it’s important for you to be able to take care of yourself during those moments too. Because, as challenging as they are for kids, they’re also challenging for parents. Come up with your own game plan for when your child is experiencing big emotions. Ask yourself what you need to get through this. Do you need to take a few deep breaths, repeat an affirmation, or walk away for a few seconds? Trust me, you will be able to get through these challenging emotions, and your toddler will become even better able to handle their emotions because of it.
Dr. Carrie Jackson is a postdoctoral psychology fellow with her PhD in Child Psychology from West Virginia University. She works with parents of kids who are experiencing challenging emotions, difficult behaviors, and trouble with attention and hyperactivity.