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How to Survive Toddlers and Their Emotions.

I was visiting my favourite blog yesterday, Natertot.com {hi Amber!} and read a very thought-provoking post on toddlers and emotions. It all of a sudden dawned on me that my husband and I have already taught our 2.5 year old some very effective problem solving and anger management techniques!


So here’s our primary stance on guiding our toddler’s behaviour while dealing with his feelings of frustration and anger. It should be noted that we are now beyond the tantrum stage and I credit the following techniques – along with consistency in winning the battle!


Good defense is a really good offense.

We, like the majority of parents, can predict when our toddler is about to be set off and already have a plan of attack prepared.  For instance, let’s say we’re at playgroup and we see our son playing passionately with a certain toy while we notice another child running in for the steal. Before the child has an opportunity to yank it from our son’s grip, we remind our son it’s almost time to move on to a new toy. This way if the child really wants a turn, our son is already prepared to give it up and move on – happily.

We have, of course, already discussed sharing ahead of time (multiple times) at home, and in the car and even on our way into the playgroup setting. We are arming our toddler with preparation;  he knows what to expect when we play with community toys. He is expected to share the toys or we will leave playgroup so the boys and girls who are sharing can play nicely with one another. Because we never make empty threats (oh what a vicious cycle that creates!), our son knows, without a doubt, that we will stick to the plan and leave at the first sign of a tantrum. No wavering. No plea bargains at all.

peace not war

Avoiding conflict is not always possible.

When something happens that we have not anticipated, resulting in our toddler being frustrated beyond words, we encourage him to take slow, deep breaths – just like we practice at yoga time. We then, if necessary, let him cry it out away from everyone else (our version of a modified time out) until he’s no longer crying and able to talk. We say very little to him, if anything, during this calming down period.  If what we say is going to put gas to the fire, we will keep quiet.  We will invite him to come over for a hug and will talk about what was making him angry (although we label it as “frustrated”) and we brainstorm together ways to make it better when he is calm. And only when he is calm. If he is finding it difficult to manage his emotions, he is invited again to calm down on his own (modified time out) until he is able to talk. This entire process usually lasts no more than 3 or 4 minutes.

toddler hug

A hug is all a toddler needs. Usually.

Sometimes a high five and a big hug is all he needs. He does, however, always insist that I wipe his tears away and requests a sip of water to make him feel better, which are a couple cool-down techniques we have taught him.  Other times he may insist that he needs something else to feel better, like candy.  If the timing is appropriate, we will happily oblige.  If not, however, my husband and I make light of those situations, by jokingly saying something like, “Really? You want to eat candy for breakfast? But wait a minute, we don’t eat candy for breakfast! Silly guy! What can we eat for breakfast?” and list alternatives that we think he might be interested in, such as “How about pancakes with maple syrup? Or maybe some dippy eggies and toast? Would that be a yummy choice?” This is not the time to insist he eat boring old oatmeal if you know darn well he borderline hates it. Remember, compromising and meeting in the middle is a very effective tool in child guidance.


Don’t play all your cards just because you can.

If we know that insisting our toddler do an unfavourable task, such as tidying his playroom, will set him off again, we will hold off until he is in the right state of mind to do so without a melt down. If it is apparent that he is hungry, tired, or otherwise “not himself” we will respect his need for down time and offer low-key activities like reading books together, assembling puzzles, colouring or even snuggling up on the couch and watching a movie together. We aren’t power-on type parents, we do not engage in power struggles either. Instead our goal is to turn his mood around, and since barking orders at him will not only frustrate him, but also everyone else involved, we choose to redirect his attention to something more productive. I guarantee being on a power trip during and after a tantrum will only be like talking to a wall. A very loud, whiny, wall. Leniency in times like this is your friend. Toddlers need our compassion. How would you feel if you were dropped on this Earth without the proper tools to succeed? Imagine how frustrated you would feel if the only direction you received was yelling and orders!


Praise, praise, praise!

Children need praise. For every negative comment made towards a child, 10 positive comments are needed to bring the child’s morale back up. Toddlers mimic the actions of the adults in their lives. If you are loving, understanding and calm, your toddler will be too. As parents, we are our children’s primary role models, so we must model appropriate anger management techniques!


Resources are key.

Social stories are amazing. So is role playing. And better yet, a great book to read together is called “When I Feel Angry” by Cornelia Maude Spelman. It’s geared towards preschool/kindergarten children but holds our toddler’s attention nonetheless.  We also talk a lot about tantrums with our friends and share techniques that have worked for us. And at the end of a messy day, my husband and I always break out the wine and cheers to another day of survival ;)

happy toddler

How are you dealing with your toddler’s feelings of anger?

10 Responses to "How to Survive Toddlers and Their Emotions."

  • My toddler gets mad over such random things sometimes, as they do, but she does it more so than my older two. We do try to make sure that she doesn’t get rewarded for inappropriate anger, as we don’t want to encourage it. Sometimes it’s just a reminder to use a nicer voice, other times a reminder to calm down, and lots of hugs when they’re needed.


    Jenn @ organic-mama.ca Reply:

    Oh yes, hugs make a world of difference to a child in despair – as long as it’s not reinforcing their inappropriate behaviour. Ah the joys of walking that very fine line as parents! ;)


    1 Stephanie - Green Stay at Home Mom said this (June 21, 2011 at 2:45 PM) Reply

  • We used to read “When I Feel Angry” to our boys when they were little too. I think I could rehearse the entire story word for word, it was great!


    Jenn @ organic-mama.ca Reply:

    Wow, you must have read it a lot ;) I don’t think I could get any further than just a few pages in!


    2 Fiona said this (June 21, 2011 at 3:03 PM) Reply

  • Hi Jenn! ;) I love this post! I think we have similar parenting styles (especially the wine part). I’ll have to check out that book too. It sounds like a good one to have as he gets older. You know, I just became aware of a whole anti-praise parenting movement. Are you familiar with it? If so, I’d love to know your thoughts. I read an essay in Bronson & Merryman’s NutureShock awhile ago that made me rethink the WAY in which I praise Nate, but I certainly am not anti-praise. Oh, also, I’m not familiar with the term “social stories” – what does that mean, woman?


    Jenn @ organic-mama.ca Reply:

    Oh Amber, I will have to write a post on the whole anti-praise movement because just a paragraph won’t do my thoughts any justice!! But in short, I’m with you – I still praise, but it’s the manner in which I do so (and the words I choose) that I bear in mind.

    Oops. Sometimes my ECE jargon slips in my posts. Social Stories describe situations, skills, or concepts in a way that improves the reader’s consciousness, leading to new expectations and effective responses. :)


    3 Amber said this (June 21, 2011 at 3:27 PM) Reply

  • great article! toddlers are tough! :)


    Jenn Reply:

    Thanks Tara, glad you stopped by! :)


    4 tara e said this (June 25, 2011 at 10:55 PM) Reply

  • This was a great post! We also run through expectations with our friends before going to playdates; it really gives them a framework for how to handle the situations that we know are going to arise. One thing we’ve dealt with this year is a toddler who does not like having his teeth brushed, which of course, is a non-negotiable task. To avoid tantrums, we start off by letting him choose which of his toothbrushes he wants to use, singing our “brush your teeth song”, and turning it into a game (“roar like a lion”) to get him to open his mouth wide. I’ve also found some good tips on this Mom’s Guide to caring for little teeth. We have similar tactics for getting dressed, getting ready to leave the house, getting buckled in the car seat, etc. It helps to remember that toddlers don’t get a whole lot of choice about their little lives, so anytime I can give my son options is a plus. And of course, making our everyday routine more fun is enjoyable for both of us. Thanks again for your insightful post! :)


    5 Emily said this (July 5, 2011 at 4:56 PM) Reply

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