OG is right in the thick of “the terrific twos” (I don’t like to call it “the terrible twos” because I don’t want her to think that I think she’s terrible, and yes, I know that makes me sound like a weirdo). She is having tantrums, throwing things and has started biting when she’s angry. It is exhausting and frustrating behavior for sure.
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed, tired and frustrated and start interacting with OG in ways I don’t want to interact with her (like yelling). I want to be a fair and gentle parent, not a punitive and reactive one. So I’ve thought about ways that I can help OG deal with her anger (and other emotions) in an appropriate and acceptable way. If you are dealing with toddler tantrums and are looking for gentle and respectful ways to help him cope, these tips are for you.
Take care of yourself
Self care is the single most important way to stay calm and be a gentle and respectful parent. We cannot stay calm and patient when we haven’t been cared for. It’s that simple.
Encourage appropriate expression of anger
Resist your instinct to hurry the emotion along and instead remain patient. Let her know that it’s ok to be angry and that you are there to support her. That might mean you sit quietly (but are available for support) while the tantrum runs it’s course. It’s hard, but it helps to build and support your relationship rather than hurt it (like yelling does).
Don’t take it personally
This is not easy because our children’s emotions trigger our own emotions but it’s important to remain calm and centered so that our children feel safe to “let it all out”. One great way to do this is to realize (and keep reminding ourselves!) that tantrums are a toddler’s way of asking for help. He can no longer handle his own emotions and needs some support from the person he trusts most (that’s you).
Showing our children that we understand the way they are feeling (while still holding firm boundaries) can help them get through their tantrum more quickly. They just want to be heard (don’t we all?). We can say, “You are angry because you don’t want to leave but we need to go home now.”
I have noticed when I do this OG will change from resisting me to collapsing in my arms as if to say “you understand me. I want to tell you more”. I also find that when I am not empathetic to her feelings she is more likely to yell or hit to try to get me to listen.
Give alternatives for energy release
It is often easier to say, “try this” instead of “don’t do that”. Have a basket of beanbags or soft toys handy that your toddler can throw. Direct him to bite a pillow (instead of himself or others), stomp his feet or do an angry dance. These are all great ways for toddlers to use their angry energy safely.
Demonstrate appropriate expression of anger
Easier said than done for sure, but we are our children’s first teacher and they absorb more than we even realize. If they see us blowing up in anger often they will do the same.
Pointing out when we are feeling angry is a good way to teach our little ones to talk about their feelings. It’s also a good cue to us to demonstrate a proper response to our anger. For example, “I’m feeling angry right now because there is a huge mess on the floor. I’m going to take a few deep breaths.”
Another way to show our children how to deal with anger is to admit when we have made a mistake and explain what we should have done instead. For example, “I’m sorry I yelled at you when I was mad. I should have stepped out of the room and cooled down instead of yelling.” I use this one more than I like to admit.
Read books together
Reading books together is a great way to help toddlers cope with overwhelming emotions. I have noticed a huge difference in the number and intensity of tantrums since we got OG a few books. These are the books we have:
When I Feel Angry by Cornelia Maude Spelman
This book is excellent. It’s great for toddlers and older children too. I especially like that it talks about the difference between feelings and actions. Children learn that it’s ok to feel angry but not ok to hit, bite, etc. It also talks about ways to deal with anger like playing with favorite toys or riding a bike.
My Many Colored Days by Dr Seuss’
This book uses colors to represent different emotions on different days. It shows that we have different feelings on different days but they always pass. The art is beautiful too!
The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
This book is great for naming lots of different emotions. I’ve noticed that OG will want me to reread the page with the emotion that she is dealing with (scared for example) and it gives me an opportunity to learn what she’s feeling (like that she is very scared of our washing machines spin cycle. I had no idea!).
One other book that I was recommended, but didn’t buy, was Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney. I didn’t buy this one because it’s about Llama Llama getting mad at having to go shopping and OG loves shopping, so I didn’t think it would resonate (update: we borrowed it from the library and it’s great but I still prefer the above books for dealing with toddler tantrums and emotions specifically).
What ways do you help a toddler (or older child) deal with their emotions?
This post is shared at Family Fun Friday