Even the most well-intentioned parents may lose control when facing a storm, and far from calming their child’s upset, they increase it. Your little one needs your help to learn how to handle intense emotions and these episodes are the best time to develop their emotional intelligence skills.
In this article, we will give you tips to help your baby calm down, manage their emotions, and have good relationships with people around them. Exposing them to different scenarios, games, and activities can help them practice these skills in a more hands-on way.
These are things that you can do to help your little one when they are having a hard time.
- Identify and label the emotion. Babies and young children express a lot of their emotions in a very similar way: by crying. They might not know exactly what they are feeling or what to call it, so help them figure it out. If they started crying after they dropped their candy bar on the floor, tell them “It looks like you’re sad because you can’t eat your candy now”. This doesn’t mean they’re going to stop crying automatically, but the more you help them identify their emotions, the easier it will be for them to work on problem-solving later on.
- Empathize with your child. While you know that their reaction to the problem at hand might be a bit exaggerated, that doesn’t mean that it’s not valid. Babies and toddlers are just learning to experience their feelings, which is why they have so many of them. Show your child that you empathize with their feelings by telling them that you understand why they are upset about what happened. This will help them feel confident when expressing themselves, no matter what emotion they’re experiencing. It will also help them start to calm down, once they feel heard.
- Regulate your own feelings. Sometimes it’s hard to see your child crying and screaming and not react to their emotions. However, it’s important for you to be calm in these situations because an important part of how children learn emotional regulation is by observing and imitating their parents’ reactions. You are their role model and as they see your calm demeanor when facing tough situations, they will start to emulate your behavior.
- Teach your child the difference between emotion and behavior. Your little one can feel many things. After a few meltdowns, they might start to equate feeling angry with throwing their food on the floor or feeling upset with throwing themselves on the floor. It’s important to take the time to teach them the difference between what they’re feeling and what they’re doing. Let them know that their feelings are valid and it’s OK to feel the way they feel, but it’s not OK to act in ways that are destructive or disruptive.
- Teach your child how to cope with their feelings. Now that they know that it’s OK to feel upset, it’s time for them to learn how to deal with their feelings in a healthier way. Here are some ideas that you can teach them:
- Breathing exercises: They can take deep breaths into their belly, rather than their chest. Breathing into the belly will help them calm their central nervous system more quickly.
- Taking a break: Teach your little one that they can let you know when they need to take a break and do a calming activity on their own, such as playing with play dough or coloring.
- Counting: Practice counting with your child to help them calm down and focus their energy on something else. If they’re younger, count with them while showing them a calm and happy demeanor, so they will feed off your energy and begin calming down.
- Moving onto a fun activity: Identify fun things that you can do with your baby when they’re feeling upset. This can be singing a song they like, tossing a ball, or any fun and easy game. This will help redirect their attention towards something positive.
- You can act it out! Once you’ve worked on all the different coping skills, choose a moment when your little one is feeling calm and happy and role-play with them. Think about a recent problem that they had a hard time coping with and together think of what they can do when that happens. Talking about the steps will help with remembering them more clearly next time they’re upset.
All babies and toddlers experience intense feelings and, as parents, there will be times when it will be difficult to tolerate the uncontrolled emotions of your little one. Keep in mind that a great way to foster emotional intelligence in your baby is having them participate in many different activities. In Kinedu, you will find appropriate activities for your child’s age, strengthening your bond and encouraging early positive experiences.