We spoke with Jessica Stokes, a social worker from the Social Emotional Program at Sanford CHILD Services, to talk about feelings and emotions in toddlers. According to Jessica, there is actually a lot of overlap when it comes to feelings and emotions in young children and older children.

“The biggest difference for toddlers is that they need a lot more encouragement, teaching, and modeling when it comes to emotional development. Toddlers have no idea what their different emotions are nor do they know how to manage or talk about them, which causes their feelings to come out as challenging behaviors, aggression, and tantrums.”

  1. Take the time to teach. You should be putting as much time into teaching your toddler about their feelings and emotions as you are their colors, shapes, or the ABCs. According to Jessica, toddlers need to be taught how to identify and name their feelings before they can learn to feel their feelings.
  2. Strategies make a difference. Children can learn strategies to help cope with their feelings and emotions from the age of two years old. Whether you teach them breathing exercises with our Animal Breathing Techniques Video, or you read a book from our Top 10 Children’s Books to Help Kids with Stress and Anxiety, giving your child different strategies to feel their feelings and emotions will give them a leg up as they grow up.
  3. Validate, validate, validate. Acknowledging and validating your child’s feelings, no matter what the feelings are, can be really powerful for them. According to Jessica, toddlers and children want to feel heard and understood. Even something as simple as saying, “I see you’re sad because… It’s okay to be sad.” would make a world of difference in helping your child learn about their emotions and feel accepted.
  4. Be the role model. When your kids are toddler-aged, you’re watched like a hawk. Take extra care in explaining and managing your own feelings and emotions to help show your children how to process big feelings. When they watch a grown-up work through a feeling of their own, it teaches them skills they can use to calm down.
  5. Stay connected to your child. Being around your child when they experience a new or big feeling can help them navigate it for themselves. Deep breathing, pats on the back, and touching your child’s arm can help them stay calm when they’re overwhelmed. If your child (or you) chooses to distance during a big emotional experience, use a calm and reassuring voice and keep eye contact during a meltdown.

Navigating your toddler’s feelings and emotions can be a large task to take on, but it’s better for everyone when you remember that you’re on the same team. Stay calm, be patient, and they’ll thank you later.

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