Toddlers Processing Feelings

My little girl is 18 months old and has started reacting when I tell her something she doesn’t like to hear.  She actually responds pretty mildly (no screaming, hitting, and flailing here) but it still is a new response and I can tell she is feeling out the waters.

The girl does a few things: 1. cries and sits on the floor (tears, too) 2. throws the closest able object 3. squeezes the closest toy while crying.

I see her frustration.  And I am in no way trying to keep her from feeling it.  I guess this is just the road each toddler has to take- putting together their feelings and wants with what is really going to happen.  A big reality check.  Every time Little W makes a fuss about not getting what she wants, she looks at me after doing whichever response she does.  Ah, critical moment.  I look right back at her.  No specific face.  No words.  I wait for her next move as she waits for my reaction.

If she is close to me and is crying I rub her back and tell her I love her.  I don’t even address the issue of whatever she wanted.  She knows the answer and it only needs to be said once.  Now I just have to show her that I am not changing, so I am the constant.  I could tell her that throwing things is dangerous, or that she should not get out her emotion squeezing a stuffed animal or toy.  Even though those things are true, I do not think  my words at that moment would mean anything.  Her issue is with handling intense emotions, not specifically squeezing or throwing.

So far her fussing has only lasted a short while (I would say a minute at most), and it has yet to be outside of the house.  She seems to bounce back quickly and move on, even without me attempting to distract her with something else.  I don’t need to “show her who is boss” or be louder than her.  She knows who makes the decisions.  She knows, that is why she is upset.  She just has to figure out that this way of acting out her emotions does not work well, and then we can go on to other ways of expression.

Thoughts?  Do you agree with letting things take their course, while being consistent and loving?  Or do you think that even in the most consistent household toddlers will still need “a talkin’ to” or a swat to counteract the emotional overload?



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4 responses to “Toddlers Processing Feelings

  1. My son has started doing this in the last month or so (he’s going on 18 months). I handle it much like you do – if he’s just overwhelmed and upset I either sit near him and rub his back or stay near and try to put his feelings into word (ie “you wanted to do ___ and I said no, so you’re upset” or “you can’t ___ and you’re frustrated). If he moves more into tantrum mode, then I ignore him after telling him he’ll be OK and trying to guess what he may be feeling.

    I think letting them riding it out and trying to name what they’re feeling is probably the best way to deal with it. When they’re already upset or overwhelmed and emotional, scolding or spanking them for it just seems cruel.

  2. Amy van kleeck

    You have great instincts and a sensible approach. I don’t think the talking to or the swat is the best approach to helping a little one figure out emotions. And, I think too many of us (yes I include me!) as young parents have only those two tools in our parent box. You are blessed to have found a way to think it thru with your first one. She will be the better for it. I think that Willa is unusual in her temperament…and she is smart. It isn’t naughty for her to have feelings…it only gets naughty if she starts to say, squeeze YOU, or throw the object at YOU. Or, if she ignores your instructions. I am glad that I just get to be grandma!

  3. I believe that God has gifted you with all you need to be that little girl’s mommy…and you are doing a great job! I wish I had learned earlier to ask the Holy Spirit what to do and then do that. It may be different each time.

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