The toddler years are fascinating. It’s when a child starts to really ex plore their budding independence, become more mobile and more curious about the world around them.
The toddler years are also a time when their communication skills start to rapidly emerge, and we often delight in the excitement and wonder being expressed to us when we’re engaged with toddlers. As these moments of exploration and discovery begin
to unfold, so too does their growing senses of frustration, anxiety and insecurity…and their ability to express these feelings in no uncertain terms!
Learning about emotions opens a whole new world to toddlers and helps them to build foundational skills, essential not only for school but for adult life as well. It’s why we place so much attention on emotional development.
There can be many triggers for a toddler to display their emotions, and most of the time it’s just a normal part of their development.
The most common reasons for toddler behaviour: • They’re hungry or tired – hunger and tiredness can bring out the w
orst in all of us. Toddlers are no different! • Their communication skills just aren’t there yet – having a feeling but not being able to communicate it or ask for help is frustrating for toddlers. • They still haven’t learned to regulate their emotions – emotional regulation takes time to develop and master, and toddlers are still learning to recognize their feelings and the strategies they can use to cope with them. • Trouble switching from one activity to another – toddlers become very focused on what they’re doing and interrupting this focus when it’s time to move on can cause an outburst, especially when they view the next task as being less attractive.
Understanding their emotions helps a toddler to make sense of themselves and the people around them. Big emotions, whether it’s their own or being displayed by someone else, can very easily be confusing for a toddler. Learning to identify and label their feelings helps them understand what’s going on within and around them, and over time lear
n what they can do about it.
Understanding emotions also helps toddlers to feel good about themselves, builds their confidence and sense of wellbeing and positions them well for learning. It’s also an important factor in toddlers growing to be inclusive, collaborative children and adults.
It’s never too early, start teaching children about their emotions.
For babies, watch their cues and verbally label their emotions and explain to them how that emotion may make them feel. It’s as much a part of their development at this age as motor skills and sensory development.
With toddlers, help them to label their feelings but we also start to teach them the physical signs of emotions like going red in the face, a rapid heart rate, crying or sweating.
When they’re competent identifying these physical and emotional cues in themselves, we start teaching them strategies to deal with feelings in socially acceptable ways, like: • Blowing up like a balloon – The children start with hands on heads, and then slowly raise their hands and arms with each deep exhale. • Bubble blowing – similar to the balloon exercise, bubble blowing is a simple breathing exercise which helps toddlers focus on deep breaths, pausing, and then gently exhaling. • Quiet spaces – some toddlers have favourite spots where they feel secure and calm. For these toddlers, teach them to use these spaces to reset.
Nobody, not even adults, likes to feel out of control. Being able to iden
tify feelings and having strategies to deal with them helps toddlers to feel in control of themselves and promotes a strong sense of self.
Each child is different, so knowing what works for your toddler really helps. These are some general guidelines to consider:
• Help your child to label their emotions and describe what they’re feeling. And really listen to them so they understand that their feelings matter. • If you’re calm and happy, your toddler is likely to feel the same a lot of the time. • Be mindful of how you react to stressful situations, as you are your child’s most enduring teacher. • Have quiet, comfortable spaces for them to use when they want to be alone. • Be consistent
Toddlers will always have their ups and downs, so manage your expectations of immediate success! But by working together we can help them develop strong and enduring coping skills which will benefit them their whole life.