Toddlers may not have as many teeth as adults, or as many words in their vocabularies, but one thing toddlers have a full adult dose of is emotion. This means that your little one can light up with as much happiness as you’ve ever felt, but it also means that they have as much capacity for anger as you’ve ever felt – they just probably doesn’t know how to express it in a positive way.
And though the life of a toddler can feel pretty idyllic, there are plenty of things in a toddler’s life that can lead to annoyance or anger – especially the feeling or lack of control. The majority of a toddler’s day is planned out for them: when to eat breakfast, when to go to school or daycare, run errands – the list goes on. To add to this, their vocabulary is still pretty limited, which means they can’t always tell you when something goes wrong for them. The fact that tantrums may happen doesn’t mean that kicking, yelling, or crying is how they'd prefer to communicate, just that it’s the best – or only – way they know how to share these feelings.
The second year of life is primetime for meltdowns due to a lack of language skills, which can make it difficult to figure out the source of the problem. Tempter tantrums are not unusual but as their communication skills improve, they should start to happen less and less often. In the meantime, here are some tips for helping Baby handle those negative feelings in a positive way.
- Get physical: Of course, this does not mean encouraging hitting or kicking during a tantrum. But just as adults see physical activity as an outlet, children can benefit from it, too. Exercise releases endorphins in the body, which trigger a positive feeling in the body. Encouraging Baby to get outside to release some of that pent up negative energy when you see them start to get upset, and encourage them to get into the habit of physical activity at the same time.
- Encourage independence: Does Baby gets frustrated when they have trouble with difficult tasks? Does they scream for your help? If it’s an age-appropriate task, and you think they may be able to complete it on their own with a little more time and effort, try encouraging them to keep working on a solution on their own, even if you could do it for them a hundred times faster. Instead of setting up a pattern of getting frustrated and upset and asking for help, they will remember the experience in a positive way once they are successful.
- Offer choices: It may not make much sense to an adult, but one of these days (if it hasn’t happened already), Baby will pitch a fit over something as small as the color of their socks. It’s not your job to fully grasp why the anger is coming out, but rather to turn it around in a way that makes you both happy. Instead of calling all the shots, give Baby an option when the opportunity presents itself – it may not matter to you whether they wear the blue or the yellow socks, but it certainly seems to matter to them, and it’s not going to hurt you to offer them the choice. You’ll be thrilled to not have to calm the tears, and Baby will be pleased to know their opinion matters to you.
- Change the environment: Sometimes all it takes is a little tweak of the daily routine to make a toddler happy. If Baby seems to be acting out as a reaction to boredom, encourage them to tell you what they would like to do, either verbally or even by using pictures and pointing. This will help them develop language and communication skills that will eventually eat away at tantrums over time until they disappear.
Negative emotions are part of life, and the way you teach Baby to handle their feelings now will have a lasting effect on how they cope with stress all the way into adulthood. Remember not to disregard their emotions, for what may seem trivial to an adult is actually quite important to a young child. As Baby grows, they will start to learn to regulate their emotions as they have been taught, so it’s important to lay the groundwork now to help them constructively cope with frustration later.