My littles are NOT fans of animatronic dinosaurs, but I knew my dinosaur obsessed two year olds would love the dinosaur exhibit at the Heard Museum if they would just give it a chance! Feeling bold one morning, I decided that I would load us up and give it a go. I was optimistic!
Upon our arrival, their excitement quickly turned to apprehension even though we had discussed where we were going in the car. For them, it was real now. As soon as we started down the dinosaur path my little Lincoln started to back away and immediately wanted to be carried. I asked him how he was feeling, and he so confidently told me “I’m feeling apprehensive, because the dinosaurs.” I was floored. My little guy just told me exactly how he was feeling and there wasn’t a meltdown in sight! Mind: blown and it was only 9 am! I remember giving my husband the biggest smile in the world! I was so proud of Lincoln.
We continued our walk, while I explained that the animatronics were not real, they cannot walk, and that dinosaurs are extinct! I repeated these facts for every single dinosaur and with each passing dinosaur Lincoln relaxed. By the end, both boys were ready to go again! They asked to walk through three more times. Each time they were a little more confident, and by the end we had to pull them away! On the ride home we discussed how they felt fearful in the beginning, but after we walked through the exhibit they felt calm and soooo excited! The day was even more successful than I had hoped. The boys had tackled their fear, and what could have been BIG emotions for toddlers turned out to be quite the opposite! #winning
I promise I didn’t share this picture perfect moment to make you think I don’t deal with BIG emotions, but I wanted to share a moment where I saw light at the end of the tunnel. Where I noticed all of my hard work was finally paying off. I was reaping my reward, just like you will if you, too, have been on the emotional rollercoaster that comes along with toddlers.
There's a book for that!
I knew big emotions were something every parent had to survive, and I wanted to be prepared. For me personally, I’ve always found my answers come from a book. Whether it is a book to teach me how to parent better, or a children’s book that leads little minds to understand and cope, books give me a starting point for conversations, language to use when BIG emotions happen, and a window into other perspectives and future situations.
I started using books that talk about emotions as soon as my babies were able to focus their little eyes. We started with simple books that showed those first emotions we teach like happy and sad. As they got older we have moved past the simple emotions and on to discussing things like selfish, confident, and apprehensive. The more specific, the better! Books have given my littles the language to use when they are feeling those BIG emotions. I used to read Llama Llama Bully Goat to my kids before they were able to talk. We read it repeatedly because they loved it so much. This book would give my kids their first words to describe when the other twin was being mean:”bully goat!” I would hear this phrase on what seemed like repeat. While we have clarified over time how to communicate what’s happening instead of shouting “bully goat”, that phrase gave my kids language to use when they were upset. I knew exactly what they were feeling even though they had a limited vocabulary at the time.
Books have been a key in helping my kids identify their emotions as well as how to handle situations that are upsetting. Below are just a few that have helped my boys. Whenever I hear a parent struggling with a situation, I'm always thinking, “There's a book for that!”
Amazing Feelings by: Anna Bardaus
Peekaboo Feelings by: Wynnie Thom
How Does Baby Feel? by: Karen Katz
Duck & Goose How are You Feeling? by: Tad Hills
The Color Monster by: Anna Llenas
Roaring Mad Riley by: Allison Szczecinski
Llama Llama Time to Share by: Anna Dewdney
I Will Try by: Laurie Wright
No-Drama Discipline by: Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
The Whole-Brain Child by: Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
I don’t know about you, but I can easily get overwhelmed by all of the strategies a book has to offer when handling emotional situations. My plan is always to focus on a few strategies that I can realistically make a habit. I usually look to see how I can pull a few together and create a routine conversation when issues arise. It really helps me internalize the strategies I want to use. I figure using a few is better than being overwhelmed by all of the great ideas but using none in real life. This is the dialogue I use based on strategies from The Whole-Brain Child.
- Get down on their level & connect
- This could look like hugging, holding, hand on their back. Something that lets your child know you’re there for them.
- “I understand your feelings...” and, ”It can be frustrating when…” Use appropriate emotions and be as specific as possible.
- Listen to their view without interruption, even if you watched it happen. It can be very eye-opening to hear why something is upsetting your child or why they did what they did.
3. Problem Solve
- Simply ask, “What’s your plan?” The solution can look like fixing what needs to be fixed, like rebuilding a tower, or plans for how to handle the problem next time. This is assuming the child is in a place to hear this. If they are still too upset, leave the problem solving for later when they’ve calmed.
- This is also an opportunity to bring it back to a book if possible. My littles are a bit young, and cannot always problem solve independently. If they need help, I remind them of a book with a similar situation. Then they can tell me how the character dealt with the problem. Our discussion can move from there.
**For moments I get to quickly I put my hand on my little’s chest and say “Take a breath and say what you’re feeling.” This has worked wonders and prevented big emotions from taking over.
Proactive is better than reactive!
Another strategy I use to help keep the peace is to look for situations that consistently cause big emotions. Is there a routine that needs to be in place or adjusted to help prevent this behavior? What can I do to help?
For me, it’s the dreaded S-word...sharing! I noticed most of my boys’ emotional outbursts happened around playtime when there are toys the other twin might also want to use. I was feeling a bit defeated. I had tried talking it out as well as using a timer, but it worked for about a week. I didn’t know what to do. I felt awful asking one twin to give up their toy, so the other would calm down. What was that teaching?
Then a few weeks ago, I discovered a podcast titled Shelf Help. I have never listened to a podcast, but I thought I would give it a shot. Well turns out I found my perfect podcast! I listened to Shelf Help Ep. 33 - Why We Don't Make Our Children Share, and it was everything! If you don’t have an hour to listen to it, all you need is the line “It’s not available right now.” That’s it- the magical sentence to get your kids to understand when they can’t have a toy they want at that moment. That sentence took minutes to become a hit.
Now my kids walk away without a fuss or give back something they picked up that wasn’t available. I also added “Can you let me know when it’s available?” when I notice the other child really wants to play with a toy. Sometimes with this line the twin with the toy will give it up on his own and “show kindness” (another book lesson)! It’s incredible to watch the boys play and use this language with one another. Those big emotions have cut down immensely. I also feel like they have a better understanding of sharing, and choose to share on their own. They are learning to respect the other child and respect boundaries during playtime.
Hopefully there is something here that will help you and your sweet toddlers find a way to ease those BIG emotional moments. If all else fails, let it go and try again tomorrow!