Learning to regulate emotions

Older toddlers show their emotions with physical reactions because they don’t yet have the words to use. When they are excited they may jump, skip and laugh loudly. When they are upset they may yell, throw things, hit or bite. Many parents are surprised by the level of their toddler's aggression. Your toddler needs your help to learn other ways to show her frustration.

It’s important to let your child know that you accept her feelings even if her behaviour isn’t okay. You can help your older toddler begin to manage or regulate her emotions by providing warmth and structure.

Provide warmth.

  • Be patient—remember she is just learning.
  • Accept your toddler’s feelings and let her know you understand.
  • Don’t make fun of or laugh at her when she is upset or afraid.

Provide structure.

  • First, name the feeling and show her you understand. Limit behaviour that could hurt her or other people (e.g., “I see you’re angry. It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to bite".).
  • Explain your reasons in words your toddler can understand (e.g., “Biting hurts people".).
  • Give her 1 or 2 ideas for what she can do instead (e.g., sit with you to calm down, make a mad face, take a deep breath, use her words to tell how she is feeling, walk away, hug her stuffed toy).
  • As she gets older, ask her what she thinks she could do, rather than telling her what to do. With practice, she’ll be able to think of these ideas when she’s on her own.
  • Regulating emotions

  • Children are able to solve problems and deal with conflict better when they can regulate their emotions. You need to help your child build these skills over the next few years.
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