Some days my son is happy as a clam, bouncing around with a smile on his face from sun up to sunset. On other days, a tiny rip in his coloring book brings him to tears. For instance, the day he learned he had to change preschools because his was closing, he literally felt like the world was ending — he told me I had “ruined the earth.”
If your toddler's emotions swing as unpredictably as my son's, here are three smart tips from Circle of Moms members on how to handle a young child's emotional ups and downs.
1. Get to the root of the problem.
Most moms don’t worry too much when their toddler is happy. But when there’s whining or crying, concern is natural.
The first step is to determine the reasons for your toddlers feelings. If your child is crying because he's hurt, then cuddling and mothering will help calm him, Kim S. advises. But rather than physical pain, emotions that toddlers can't process are often the reason for whining. Your child could be tired or overstimulated, and not know how to understand those feelings.
As Crystal Crystal H. notes: "It helps to be sensitive to the fact that [toddlers] don't understand their emotions, so you have to make some effort at times to try to get them to tell you what is wrong (and sometimes they still can't tell you)," she shares. "They need some extra reassurance and hugs at this age.”
Once you've deduced the underlying cause, focus on the real problem rather than simply getting your child to stop whining. As Erin S. advises: “If you determine that the underlying cause is that your kid is tired, overstimulated or hungry, then you can easily solve the problem and worry less about the whining. Basically, treat the real problem instead of the symptoms.”
2. Ignore attention-seeking outbursts.
If after your investigation you determine your toddler is crying for seemingly no good reason, Circle of Moms members say it’s important to ignore whining and then teach your child how he can better handle his emotions.
As Vicki D. explains, toddlers are “transitioning from babyhood to preschool status and are having to adjust to more rules and expectations from us grown-ups. The crying that worked while still a baby no longer works, and they need help learning what to do when they need or want something. If they have a younger sibling, they tend to do what the baby does to get attention. We have to be careful not to baby-talk to them and just say things plainly so that they associate normal talk with acquiring what they need or want.”
Elizabeth P. suggests the following conversation to address unwanted crying: "I realize you really want to ... and it must feel really terrible to have mommy say 'no.' It is okay to cry when we are sad, but you will have to do it over here honey so it doesn’t disturb me. When you feel better, mommy will love to spend time with you (or if not because you need to cook or clean, then [say] 'come and play quietly near mommy'). Sometimes I have to feel sad for a while when I can’t do things that I want to, but after I think about it for a while I start to find a way to be happy again.” Such a conversation, Elizabeth says, will help your toddler learn to comfort himself.
Other moms say if your toddler is just whining to get attention or express mild displeasure, it’s okay to tell him it’s unacceptable. “Generally I will gently tell my daughter that her behavior is not acceptable and suggest other ways she can communicate the same thing (or sometimes ask her for suggestions if she isn’t too far gone," Erin S. relays. "If that doesn’t work, I just let her know that until she can speak to me properly, she will not be able to get what she wants.” Julie. S. takes a similar approach: “If the crying or whining is because they didn’t get their way, then I ignore it.”
3. Provide positive reinforcement.
As toddlers slowly learn what acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are, it’s also important to provide positive reinforcement for good behavior, Circle of Moms say. “Give her loads of love when she is good, and she will realize that she will only get something if she behaves well,” Emma S. says.
Amy says for all three of her children, she made sure to complement them whenever they made good choices or acted appropriately, and that helped to even out their emotions.
Additionally, moms can also model the behavior they want their toddlers to adopt, Rebecca C. says. “If you don’t want him to yell, don’t yell at him. … If you want him to say thank you, say it to him, etc. Recognize when he is behaving properly.”
Taking Toddler Emotions in Stride
Above all, Circle of Moms member say, it’s important for moms of toddlers to take their children’s cries in stride, since emotional ups and downs are normal during the toddler stage. When times get tough, Michelle M. stresses you should remind yourself that “your child will outgrow it.” As Amy confirms, "I lost sanity during that stage, but we all lived through it.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.