Handling strong toddler emotions

We have a very determined little guy. He knows what he wants. He knows what he likes and he likes to tell you how he feels about those things. It’s a part of his character I deeply admire.

A few months ago we got given some Duplo and our little guy has fallen in love with it. When it first came though it was a source of constant frustration for him. He was furious every time he tried to sit a little person in a car and he couldn’t do it. He did not have the motor skills yet to do it. But, he knew what he wanted to happen and it made him livid that he couldn’t.

He would try and then get so angry he’d scream and throw the pieces across the floor. Then he’d collapse in a heap and (if we were lucky) he’d even start head butting the floor or trying to bite. The tantrums were quite extreme (and reserved almost entirely for the Duplo!)

My husband and I had a moment where we looked at each other mid-tantrum and said, “do we need to take the Duplo away?” and it got us thinking.

Do we need to take away the frustrating toys? No, we decided we needed to help him learn how to cope with the frustration. We needed to calmly say, “I know that’s frustrating. If you bring it to me I can help you put it together…”, “…let me show you how to do that…”. We needed to hold him tight so he couldn’t head butt the floor or bite us and say, “It’s ok to feel angry…”, “I can understand that not being able to do that makes you cross…”

Our role as parents isn’t to take away the things that might be hard. What good would that do him? How would we prepare him for the world if we made everything easy for him? It’s our job to help him learn how to handle frustrating situations and how to process his emotions.

In only a week we noticed that this approach was helping him change how he handled the situation. He’s almost there now with fitting the little people into the cars. He still gives it a go and we coach him through it but when he decides he’s done he calmly potters over and asks for help.

We are raising a little person who will one day become an adult. I want to seize every opportunity to equip my kid to be ready for the world. I want to constantly model how to process emotion and handle tough situations. That includes the times where I don’t do it well. I want him to see those times too, and I want to talk them through with him. I want to always be honest and open so that he feels he can do the same.

And I truly believe that starting with Duplo (or whatever toy/activity drives your kid nuts) is important. Kids are always learning. I want to provide mine with opportunities to learn great things right from the start.

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