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Toddler Tantrums: How to Navigate Emotions with Your Child

toddler tantrums

Susannah stops by today with her experience as a mom of a two-year-old. Here are her tips for dealing with toddler tantrums – to benefit both your child and you! Let’s give Susannah the stage here.

Terrible twos. Tantrums. Toddler years. Emotions.

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably gotten plenty of advice about how to deal with tantrums. If you’re not a parent, you’ve probably still heard all sorts of stories about the terrible twos, or threes or maybe even twenty-threes.

The fact of it is, we all have emotions and each one of us deals with feelings in our own unique ways. Young children generally do less internal processing of emotion than adults before airing their feelings to the world. In other words, babies, toddlers, and young kids often just explode.

The expression of negative emotion can sometimes (or maybe often!) come in the form of tantrums: tears, stomping feet, kicking, yelling, hitting… Yeah, you get the idea.

Toddler Tantrums: Up Close and Personal

Recently we’ve been navigating lots of negative emotion together with my two-year-old.

She is exuberance incarnate, and therefore when things are good, they are very, very good. And when things are bad, they’re terrible.

When I experience my daughter’s toddler tantrums, the panic buttons go off inside my mind and body, too.

So, how do I deal with this?

Sometimes I try to talk with her. Sometimes I try to hold her. Other times, I try to distract her.

Many times those tactics simply don’t get us anywhere.

So, that’s when I sit with her. Yes, I sit next to her as she cries, yells, or rolls around on the floor.

While I’m sitting there I try to keep myself calm by breathing deeply, or maybe even counting out loud.

Deep Breathing and Well-being

Sometimes, I try to encourage my daughter to take a deep breath in those moments of strong emotion. Generally she doesn’t take well to my prompting, and she may even redouble her powerful onslaught of negative expression.

Yet, to my delight, she sometimes internalizes more of my advice than I expected. One time, I actually saw her take a deep breath during a stressful moment! Wow.

Deep breathing may seem silly on the surface, like a folk tale without scientific basis. Instead, it has been proven to help decrease stress in our bodies and minds.

Each individual child will have more or less tantrums than other children. Each individual child will express emotion in unique ways, and with more or less intensity than other kids. That’s because your child – just like a niece, nephew, friend, or grandchild – is one of a kind.

Toddler Tantrums and Emotional Support

While each of us will deal with our child’s tantrums in our own ways, it is proven that being there with and for them during those times can be truly beneficial to their emotional development.

It’s a beautiful thing to know that someone will be with us, through thick and thin, in good times and in bad. It’s comforting to know that someone loves us, even though we drive them crazy sometimes.

The same goes for kids. They want to know that they can have strong feelings like toddler tantrums without being bad for it. They want to know that there is someone next to them when the world seems to be falling apart. Lastly, they want to know that someone will help them to make sense of the things that confuse them.

Kids See the World Differently

Losing a box of crayons, or having to leave the playground too soon don’t seem earth-shattering to an adult. But kids don’t have adult mind-power, adult experience, adult thinking, or adult reasoning.

To them, leaving the playground could feel like a real tragedy.

Kids’ tantrums aren’t only about “getting their way” or “making a stink” about little things. It’s their way of reaching out to ask for help, to ask for comfort, to ask for support, to express frustration. They’re just not very good at communicating all of that with words, yet.

It’s our prerogative, as adults, to be their strength and foundation in the midst of the emotional earthquakes.

Maybe that means stepping away for a minute or so to regain our composure before interacting with our child who is having toddler tantrums.

Or, maybe that means taking a deep breath.

Perhaps that means holding our child close, if he or she responds well to that physical contact.

It could mean giving direction if the child’s behavior is physically destructive or dangerous. It could mean removing the child to a safe place where he or she can calm down from toddler tantrums.

Finally, it most definitely means that we could benefit, along with our child, from endeavoring to find the inner balance and peace needed to withstand toddler tantrums together with our little one.

About the Writer

Susannah Strong is mom to a spunky two-year-old, and wife to a busy medical student. She has a dual degree in Psychology and Anthropology and has always been deeply interested in the human experience. Recently she started up her own blog, where she shares her insights on life, love and family; original recipes, and joy in the simple things of life.

12 thoughts on “Toddler Tantrums: How to Navigate Emotions with Your Child”

  1. This is an interesting post that touches upon, but unfortunately doesn’t elaborate, the underlying brain-driven mechanisms for the behaviour. It would have helped, I think, to have had some explanation of the primitive brain versus higher brain functions, and how tantrums are driven from the former. Thus it’s biological and not deliberate: the young child simply hasn’t yet developed the higher brain functions of reasoning and reflection, so when “stuff” happens they can only respond in this way. Trying to shut them down or convey, somehow, that what they are doing is “bad” or “wrong” is totally the wrong approach. As the author rightly points out you need an empathetic approach that gets alongside the child and helps them to develop mechanisms to self regulate.

    1. It’s absolutely true that children, especially very young ones, do not have a very developed pre-frontal cortex. There is a ton more to say on the subject, Bruce, as you pointed out! Perhaps I could get into more detail in a future post. Thank you for the wonderful comment.

  2. Most times our kiddo is sweet but sometimes she’s such a pain in the ass. I admit sometimes we spank her (that might not sound so good in peoples ears but yes we do that when it’s wayyyyyy too much) but the last few months i try to spank less and just put her on a time-out and when the crying/yelling is over we talk. I let her tell me what that behaviour was all about and so we try to find a solution. So tho it’s difficult sometimes with all that bad behaviour its just like you said….they don’t think like us. They still need to learn so much such as how to deal with their emotions. And how they must tell us. And we as parents we just need to be more patient with these little sweet annoying kids

    1. Hi Sherri,

      Thanks for your thoughts! Dealing with emotions with kids can be really, really hard. I know. I feel extremely stressed when my daughter screams and cries. It can help to remember that this is a phase that will pass. Yes, kids can act sweet, annoying, and many other things too. And yes, patience is a big help in raising kids!

  3. Those are good tips, but I’m more of an old school person. And have always used my 5 step program.
    Step one- buy duck tape
    Step two- apply duck tape gently to the kids mouth
    Step three- open the basement door
    Step four- introduce gently the kid into the basement
    Step five- shut door

    1. Tantrums can be terrible, can’t they? I am very fortunate to have had opportunities to learn gentle and peaceful methods for dealing with stressful situations with my daughter.

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