As parents, we take on a massive task as soon as our child is born. We want them to be strong and independent, as well as happy. As your child becomes a toddler, your hope that they will gain all of these skills on their own becomes more and more of a pipe dream. Then you realize it’s up to you to teach them the skills they need to be strong, independent, and happy.
When a young child is defiant, we tend to see red. She looks right at you, sticks her chin out, and does the opposite of what you just told her not to. If this is a behavior you are all-too-aware-of, know that it will be all right. Your child’s response is part of a phase that they will grow out of as they mature emotionally.
Just as you teach your kid new words to use in their vocabulary, you can teach them how to understand their emotions, as well as what to do with those feelings. Learning these skills will help your child to become emotionally intelligent. It will also teach you how to be a more understanding parent.
Small children have all sorts of feelings and emotions within their tiny little bodies, and most of the time, no matter what the emotion, it comes out in laughter or anger. The laughter and smiles we love. Other emotions and feelings, such as sadness, frustration, anger, and fear, usually come out looking like anger. Your little person has no way of knowing the difference, and therefore, cannot communicate to you what they need.
Take a Deep Breath
When your child is throwing a tantrum, no matter how big, take a deep breath and try to remember that they aren’t doing it on purpose. They are trying to communicate with you, but they just don’t know how yet. When they are defiant, and you see red, you won’t be able to do anything productive. If you can’t be calm when dealing with their emotions, how will they learn to do the same? Count to twenty if you need to, then move towards solving the problem.
Stay Kind, Compassionate, and Loving
Children have a hard time controlling their emotions. Let them know that you understand they are upset, and tell them that you will help them solve their problem. If you stay calm, most of the time it will help them follow your example. Once they are relaxed enough to hear what you are saying, they will be more open to listening and learning from you.
Don’t scold your child for being emotional. Remember, they can’t help it, and they need you to teach them. If you send them to time-out or dismiss their feelings as unimportant, they will never learn to deal with those emotions, and you’ll see them pass that on to their children.
Help Your Child Label Their Emotions
Try saying something like, “You seem very angry right now. Is it because Ethan took your dolly?” or “You seem sad. How can I help you feel better?” Using similar phrases and vocabulary each time will teach your child to understand their emotions, and then they will have those phrases and words to use next time instead of screaming or throwing something. Once your child can adequately recognize their feelings and give a label to them, they will get better at regulating themselves without being overwhelmed.
Teach Your Child How to Problem-Solve
When your toddler gets into a conflict with another child, guide them to a solution. Try something like, “I know that you are upset that your cousin took your toy, but you can’t push her down. What else can you do when you get mad?” If she doesn’t have any ideas, give her options.
There are many choices, and you only need to find what works for your child. You can have them check their tummy, fists, or jaw to see if they are tight, then show them how to take deep breaths to calm down. Tell them that will help let all the anger out. You can also have them count to a number while they breathe. Show them how good it feels to have control over their emotions.
Set a Good Example
Setting a positive example for your children is essential. In doing all of this research, it has come to my attention that I never learned emotional management from my parents. I know this because I react the same way they do. When I get upset, I blow up and then have to apologize. As soon as I saw my daughter doing the same, I realized what was happening and prayed to the internet gods to help me find a solution.
I found that solution in a PBS show called Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. This show has saved my life in regards to teaching my daughter how to deal with her emotions. Daniel Tiger and his friends are just like any other toddlers and tend to be slightly whiny and explosive.
What I learned from the show itself is how the parents work with Daniel and his friends to understand and control their emotions. The adults in the show are always calm, they acknowledge the children’s feelings, and then help them solve the problem with either a song or a phrase.
Episodes show multiple scenarios where Daniel has a problem but doesn’t know how to express his feelings. I would recommend this show, as well as Daniel Tiger Grr-ific Feelings, and Daniel Tiger for Parents app for any parent who needs help on this journey. If you don’t want your child to have screen time, the parent app can be on your phone and your child never even needs to know about it.