Life with a toddler can sometimes feel like an emotional roller coaster. One moment he’s laughing and bursting with confidence; next, he’s howling and desperate for a reassuring cuddle. At times, you may struggle to find ways to deal with your toddler’s ever-changing mood.
The problem is that your child has yet to gain full control over his feelings. He tends to react impulsively and makes little attempt to moderate his reactions.
So if he is happy, he instantly smiles. If he is sad, he cries immediately. And if he is annoyed, he shows his rage. It’s as if there is no middle ground, only extremes.
Plus, the typical toddler only sees everything from his point of view. That’s why, for example, he demands that you play with him even though you have told him you are tired.
He loves you, but as far as he is concerned, the world revolves around him – and so you should do what he wants, not the other way round. Anything or anyone who stands in his way becomes the target of his outburst.
Now that your tyke is between the age of two and three years, you can encourage him to take ownership of his feelings and accept responsibility for his behaviour.
Of course, you’ll still be the one who has to say “no” when he oversteps the line. And you’ll still have to calm him when he becomes too excited, soothe him when he is distressed and set limits when his temper explodes. Yet, you can start to switch the balance of power slightly.
That’s why it is helpful to step back a little. For instance, don’t rush in the moment he starts to scream at his brother, or when he cries because he can’t find his favourite toy.
But if his temper or tears continue for too long, then you must take charge. Still, you have at least given him a chance to sort things out on his own before that point is reached.
The more your child thinks about the effect of his behaviour on others, the more he’ll try to control himself. Give him a helping hand with this.
Explain, for example, that when he loses his temper, his friends will be afraid and will not want to play with him. Or when he laughs, you’ll feel happy, too.
Let’s count to three
Your tot is probably unaware that what he does actually influences other people, so spell it out to him. Make your explanation specific and practical. For instance, instead of saying, “It’s not nice to lose your temper,” tell him, “I am sad when you lose your temper.”
Heightening his awareness of the effect he can have on others prompts him to think more carefully about the way he expresses his emotions in the future.
Teach him strategies to gain more control over his feelings. For example, encourage him to think before he acts, so he avoids impulsive behaviour. This is more difficult for an excitable tot as his natural tendency is to respond to his feelings the moment they arise.
Suggest that he waits for a second or two before reacting, or perhaps walk out of the room and wait for a couple of seconds before returning.
Building in time lags slows down the roller coaster effect. Naturally, you can’t reasonably expect your child to take full control of his emotions at this stage. But with your help, this will build steadily.