Managing big feelings

Your little one is turning 2? This is such a wonderful phase where they just ooze love, empathy and care. They are learning so many skills at once and going through many changes - physical, social and emotional. They are curious and eager to learn more about the world around them. They ask questions and absorb information like sponges. Oftentimes this age is preceded by the adjective 'terrible'.

But what makes this terrific phase terrible? When asked, most people's responses are tantrums, meltdowns, stubbornness, inability to share and the frequent use of the word 'No'. Toddlers are accused of testing their caregiver’s patience and caregivers feel extremely frustrated and exhausted while responding to this behavior. 

Let's take a minute though, to ask ourselves, if it is fair to label a toddler who is incapable of being manipulative? What is causing these outbursts and what can we do to help?

Why toddlers feel big emotions ?

The main reason for toddlers to feel these big emotions is 'Communication' or the lack of - when a toddler feels like they cannot express themselves or they are trying their best to tell you something, but they are just not being heard! They do not want to hurt or frustrate you - they are trying to figure these things out for themselves and merely need your help. 

Here are some tips to make the ‘terrible twos’, terrific!

1. Provide two choices  

Instead of telling them what to do - Ask ‘Would you like to wear the pink or white top?’  instead of saying ‘Wear the white top!!’. Asking open ended questions like ‘What will you like to wear?’ can be overwhelming and are best avoided. 

2. Pick your battles 

Save the no for when you really need it. If your child doesn't want to wear a shirt, that's okay. Save the NO for when he's putting his finger in a socket!

3. Get down to their level

Talking to your child from a height can be intimidating. Remember you are almost twice their size if not more and you want them to listen to you and hear what you’re saying without any fear. Get down low while talking to them, squat or pull a chair or even sit on the floor, so that your eyes are at the same level as theirs. 

4. Be flexible 

If your child doesn't want to sit in the high chair, try sitting on the floor instead. You are not running a military camp, you are raising a toddler. Sometimes we may eat a sit down dinner, sometimes we eat on the couch while watching TV. Children benefit from flexibility as much as they thrive on routines.

5. Provide alternatives

If you notice your child really loves playing with wires or remotes, get them some that are safe and don't work. Turn the no into a yes.

These tips will help you set your child up for success. However, while we may try to do everything in our power to prevent meltdowns, feeling and showing big emotions is absolutely normal. 

Here are 5 strategies to help your toddler calm down.

1. Identifying the problems as big and little

Use your hands to show big problems and little problems. This is step one in the calming down process. Children are very capable of understanding the severity of the problem and very often realizing that it is a little problem, helps them calm down. The size of the problem is their perspective and as caregivers we must respect that. If your child thinks it is a big problem, we acknowledge it irrespective of how we feel about it. Once they are calm and the feelings have passed, revisit the difference between a big and little problem.

2. Blow out the candles 

This strategy helps a toddler take a deep breath and feel a sense of calm in a fun way. Remember to practice this strategy often, especially when your child is in a good mood. So when the time comes to use it, it's something your child is familiar with and willingly participates in.

3. Hot chocolate

This is another breathing strategy, smell the hot chocolate to breathe in and blow to cool it down while breathing out. Again, practice this frequently during the day and not only during big emotions.

4. Belly breaths

The child puts both hands on their belly and feel it going in and out as they breathe.. You can print a picture and display it to remind your child of this strategy. When they are feeling sad, upset or angry, they hold their belly and count 5 belly breaths.

5. Calm corner

Setting up a calm corner with quiet tools and materials like crayons and paper, squeeze ball, play dough and even a teether is very helpful. Encourage your child to go to this place when they are feeling upset. It's important not to make this into a punishment corner but a ‘take a break’ corner. Even adults may need something like this.


For all these strategies to work, the key is to teach and practice when your child is happy so that they can easily use it when they need to. Just like we plan activities to teach our children fine motor skills, socio-emotional learning is equally important!

Here are some books that help reiterate the concept

1. My Magic breath

2. I am peace

3. Breathe like a bear

4. When Sophie gets angry

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