Menu

How to help your toddler with 'big emotions' (before it turns into a tantrum)

A new study found how to recognize a potential blow up and intervene early.

child big emotions tantrum

When Adrienne (not her real name) joined a program to help parents with meltdowns, her daughter was 15 months old and almost always in meltdown mode.

"Sophie was constantly screaming, crying and throwing tantrums," her mom explains. "At that young age, she didn't have the words to say what she wanted, so she used her voice to get attention."

So Adrienne and Sophie became part of studies recently published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology and the Infant Mental Health Journal, which helped coach parents on when to intervene as their kiddo was feeling "big emotions" or acting out. According to Adrienne, it was super helpful—the good news is you don't have to sign up for a study to learn what she did. We have the tips right here.


Understanding 'big emotions' in little bodies

The study saw parents, like Adrienne, coached in 'Parent-Child Interaction Therapy' so that they could recognize a potential blow up and intervene early to help their little one.

"As parents become better equipped to identify why the child is being disruptive, they can help the child manage and regulate their emotions. With this support, the child will gradually become better at doing this on their own," says Dr. Jane Kohlhoff, lead author of the study and senior lecturer at University of New South Wales Medicine's School of Psychiatry, who adds that "it teaches parents to reconceptualise their child's challenging behaviours."

Kohloff continues: "Often, the behaviour isn't a deliberate disobedience, but a result of the child's struggle with new, big emotions, like frustration, fear and anxiety."

Spotting you child's escalating emotions

For example, imagine a child is playing with a toy oven and toy pot, and she can't get the pot to fit in the oven. They may not understand why this isn't working. Playing roughly and smashing toys can is a sign that children are having trouble understanding how the toys work or what they can do with them.

"For a young child, this can be frustrating and the feelings may escalate quickly. It may lead them to become rough and aggressive, or to have a tantrum," says Kohlhoff.

"In this instance, the parent would be coached to notice this change in emotion early, and then to move closer to the child and validate their emotions by saying, 'I know you are feeling frustrated right now'."

Soothing, suggesting + showing physical comfort

The next step, says Kohloff, if to reassure your child. Try saying, "Mama is here to help you" in a soothing, calm voice. Offer physical affection and comfort and suggest another way to play (in this example, show the child another place to put the toy pot).

By doing this instead of simply telling our children to play nice, or chastising them for smashing their toys around, we are guiding them not only in play but in emotional regulation. Too often, kids are expected to know how to regulate their own emotions way too soon, and when parents come at them with this unrealistic expectation, the relationship suffers.

"Children at this young age are still trying to work out what emotions are, and how to navigate them," says Kohlhoff. "One of the best things a parent can do is to help their child understand and manage their emotions. We can't expect young toddlers to do it themselves."

Bottom line: Getting involved in play can help prevent tantrums

For Adrienne, connecting with this study gave her the opportunity to learn these skills from professionals, but we can all replicate this study at home and replicate her results with Sophie.

"My husband and I feel more at ease with knowing how to help her during meltdowns," she explains. "Our relationship with our daughter improved...I'm more mindful of what I say–for example, I've learnt to be specific in my praises rather than saying something general, like 'Good girl,' when she's behaving well."

As mamas who've been there, here are some of our favorite tools for helping our kidsmanage big emotions.

Slumberkins hammerhead snuggler

Slumberkins hammerhead snuggler

Slumberkins are amazing tools for teaching little ones to name and explain their big emotions. They just happen to be disguised as the most snuggly, soft lovies we've ever seen. Along with their story and mantra card, Hammerhead helps kids articulate big feelings when tantrums or frustration gets the better of them.

$44

Slumberkins alpaca snuggler

Slumberkins alpaca snuggler

Alpaca helps kiddos name and explain worry and anxiety that can lead to acting out.

$44

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Rarely is a woman more concerned with what her body needs than when she's pregnant. We start to question and research everything, right? From swearing off turkey sandwiches to diving down the rabbit hole of prenatal supplements that make up what we lack, the stress of overthinking is real, mama.

One of the main reasons we launched the Motherly Shop is to help take some of that stress away. We've tracked down the best brands and products developed by people (and in many cases, women!) that truly work to serve the needs of real mamas, especially throughout the overwhelming transition into motherhood.

That's why we knew we had to introduce mamas-to-be to the science-backed and expertly-formulated protein collagen for pregnancy from Needed. And as one of our bestsellers, it's clear you've been looking for it, too.

Keep reading Show less
Shop

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

To the mama who had a baby during the pandemic

You deserve hugs, love, recognition and so much more. But I will settle for the next best thing, which is to write you a little love letter.

I am a midwife, and that means two things:

  1. I am a total birth nerd
  2. I want to hug every new mom I see

But we are in a pandemic, which means that the latter is impossible—and this makes me impossibly sad. You deserve hugs, love, recognition and so much more. So I will settle for the next best thing, which is to write you a little love letter.

Darling new mama. Here are seven things you need to know:

Keep reading Show less
Life