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Keep Calm and Toddler on: Tips for calming a frustrated toddler

I have learned so much about myself from my children. The kind of mom I want to be. The kind of person I want to be. I have a 29-month-old and a 13-month-old (yes that’s 2 toddler boys.. HELP!) Each stage of their development has brought so much joy but also challenged me in so many ways: to grow in patience, to embrace imperfection, to be okay with messes, and to be forgiving of myself when I lose my cool and don’t remember everything (or anything) I thought I learned.

One of the things I’ve been trying to improve on as a parent is helping my 29-month-old remain calm when he gets frustrated. Toddlers are known for their tantrums. Developmentally they are in a time where they are prone to frustration: they understand more than they can communicate, they are growing physically and mentally and don’t understand their limits, and they are feeling new emotions that they are unsure of how to express.

Before I get into specifics, I want to first say that because every child is different in personality and behavioral tendencies, reaching a calm state will come easier to some than others and certain techniques will work better in some than others. While sharing your experience with other parents and asking for advice can be helpful, comparing your child to another most likely will not. Also, know that this gets better with practice. Give yourself grace! Parenting isn’t easy, especially in the toddler stage. You got this mama!

  1. Self-check:  what behaviors are you exhibiting as their parent? Are you calm yourself?  Have you heard that toddlers are little sponges that will soak up everything you do and say? Anxiety tends to run in families for genetic and environmental reasons, including parenting style. If you want to be calm, you have to display a calm manner yourself (even when that tiny human is throwing his food, hitting his brother, screaming to watch TV, and pulling your hair…). I speak from experience of having anxiety myself. Self-awareness has been critical for me to have positive interactions with my littles.
  2. Cover the Basics: Thirsty? Hungry? Poopy diaper? These are the things that would make anyone, even an adult, irritable… so just imagine if you are a toddler and you haven’t successfully communicated what is bothering you. As soon as my toddler starts knocking over all the toys and smashing everything in sight, I know there’s a good chance there’s a present waiting for me in his diaper.  It’s also easy to forget how important drinking enough water is to our body and well-being. Offering water with snacks and meals and in between (especially when your toddler seems irritable) can make a big difference.
  3. Focus on breathing. We know how effective deep breathing can be in adults, but what about toddlers? I was delightfully surprised when I tried this with my son when he was mad about not getting to eat an entire container of goldfish. He didn’t do it perfectly, but he did try to mimic me, giggled some, and it distracted him from why he was so upset. Then it was easier for us to talk it out.
  4. Show empathy. Get on his level. Try your best to understand why he’s upset and validate his feelings. Yes, it may seem silly to us as adults that he is rolling on the floor crying because he can’t have his Buzz Lightyear cup that is in the dishwasher, but to him in his few years on this earth, that is a big deal! Maybe he thinks it’s gone forever and doesn’t understand why it needs to be cleaned. Toddlers want to learn! And they can tell if we are trying to empathize with them or not.
  5. Hugs and cuddles! Hug her or have her hug one of her favorite cuddly toys. Warm physical touch can be so comforting. There are actual physiological benefits to a hug and it also deepens that emotional closeness between you two.
  6. Music. It really does work wonders! If they have a favorite song, especially one that makes them wiggle and dance, this could be a game-changer. Even singing a song together can help!

These are just a few ideas. there are many more out there! And even though we should show empathy while we are with our frustrated toddler, we also should put our feet up at the end of the day and laugh with our partners and friends about some of these moments. I mean what else is there to do when your 2-year-old cries because you won’t let him ride the vacuum around the house or because his shadow won’t go away? You are doing a great job mama. Thanks for reading!

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