Children are not born with the ability to regulate or understand their emotions.
It comes with time, age and help from their parents. Every tear and every tantrum is a learning experience for them and a way that they are trying to express how they’re feeling the best way they know how.
At any age, but especially a toddler, crying is a completely normal response to feeling overwhelmed by feelings. Overwhelming feelings can be anything from anger, fear or even happiness.
Some children feel this more frequently than others. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a child that feels things a little bit stronger than others. It can make life a little more difficult for them, though.
So, is there a way that we can help them to deal with these big feelings?
Emotion is not a sign of weakness.
Some parents can feel a little embarrassed when their little ones get emotional. They may even usher their child out of an activity at the first sign of tears. But remember, crying isn’t a negative. Children will have big feelings and it is important for them to express them. This does not make your child weak - in fact, emotional awareness can actually help your little one feel mentally strong.
Teach them to recognise how they feel.
It is important to teach your little one to name their feelings. This will help them to recognise the feeling, feel it and let it pass. You can start by saying to them “I can see you’re angry” or “I know you’re feeling sad”. Another great way to recognise emotions is when reading stories - ask your little one how they think a character is feeling at different times in the story.
Know the difference between emotion and behaviour.
As important as it is to help your child express their feelings, it also equally important that they express them appropriately. A tantrum in the shop or shouting in school is not an appropriate way to behave. Recognise and validate the feeling but teach them the correct way to express it and how not to. You could tell them “I know you are feeling angry and that is okay, but it is not okay to hit your sister.”
It can be easy to inadvertently minimize your little one's feelings. But by minimising their feelings, you are sending them the wrong message that their feelings don’t matter or that they’re wrong. But feelings are okay. They may even seem out of proportion to you but they are not to your little one.
When your little one is experiencing overwhelming feelings, even if they don’t realise it themselves, validating their feelings not only helps them feel understood and heard but it also makes them feel like they’re not alone.
Teaching them that their feelings come and go can help them to stay a little bit calmer in the midst of an emotional moment.