Emotional Coping Techniques for Toddlers

One of my biggest struggles as a mom is equipping my daughter with age-appropriate emotional coping techniques to help her navigate all of the big and scary emotions that come with life as a two year old.

I’ve previously discussed some great art activities for emotional regulation, and we’ve shared our Peace Corner set-ups. I wanted to share some emotional coping techniques that involve no preparation and can be done anytime, anywhere.

This is what has worked for us so far and I would love you hear from you about what works with your kids!

4 Tried and True Emotional Coping Techniques for Toddlers - Help Your Toddler Navigate big emotions!

1. Take a Break

When I feel like I am getting a bit annoyed or upset I stop what I am doing and announce that I am taking a break — modelling the behaviour I want her to emulate. I usually go and make a cup of tea and ask for a couple of minutes of quiet, even if Ella accompanies me on my break.

When I see Ella getting upset, I will suggest that we take a break together, and we stop doing whatever is frustrating her (as much as we can), cuddle, and sit in silence for a moment or two until I feel like she has calmed down or released whatever tension she was experiencing.

It can be difficult to sometimes prioritize “taking a break” with whatever else is going on at the moment. For example, if she is getting upset at my insisting that she cleans up, it sometimes will seem more important that I insist on her listening and following instruction, but if I am to step back and put the situation in perspective, it is more important to take care of my toddler’s emotional needs and emotional intelligence than to insist on her cleaning up right that second. Once she has calmed down, she will likely clean up faster and with pride rather than resentment.

Ella has recently started “taking a break” on her own initiative, usually going and sitting down away from the situation for a moment until she feels that she has calmed down — and she is 26 months.

Children can associate taking a break with a specific place, toy, or activity, but it is ideal for the child to be able to take a break in any setting and in the absence of that toy, when necessary.

2. Shake Our Sillies Out!

The funny and positive idea of “sillies” can be a great way to diffuse an unnecessarily tense moment.

Again, I try to encourage this by modelling it myself — shaking my own sillies out whenever I feel the need! Ella will usually join in and then we can return to the task at hand in a positive mindset. Ella has started initiating this, but she instead calls it “shake your bum-bum” and will encourage me to do so whenever she thinks I need a good shake!

3. Get in Action!

This emotional coping technique is best suited to older children, but is powerful in helping children realize that they have choice in the face of big emotions.

Encourage your child to choose an action that will help the situation. You may suggest activities, but it is important to really consider any suggestions that the child might have, despite their perhaps inconvenient nature.

For example, if your child respectfully suggests that they need to go for a nature walk and it is five minutes before suppertime, perhaps putting supper on hold really is feasible in the face of helping your child become accountable and take charge of emotional situations. If it is not feasible, can you suggest a reasonable alternative — two minutes sitting on the porch, a cuddle on the windowsill, etc?

4. Deep Breathing

We keep a pinwheel in each room of our house for this very exercise. I encourage Ella to take deep breathes in and push deep breathes out, focusing on spinning the pinwheel with the power of her breath. Or, you could have a child lay on the floor, place his or her hand on her belly, and feel it move up and down with each deep breath. I like using the pinwheel because it gives a young child a concrete result to focus on, and because the spinning of the pinwheel is calming.

Remaining calm, helping our children understand their emotions, and letting them know that we are there to help them are essential to giving our children a secure foundation to build their emotional intelligence upon.

An example script could be, “Ella, I know you are really upset right now. You’re MAD that Mama will not let you have a cookie right now, and that’s okay. It’s okay to be mad, even Mama gets mad sometimes. I love you and maybe we should (take a break) together.”  Please notice that I did not outline what unacceptable behaviour would be — unacceptable behaviour should only be mentioned if unacceptable behaviour has occurred, or is obviously about to occur (i.e., you’ve had to stop a hitting hand).

Which emotional coping techniques have you successfully taught your toddler?

For more awesome emotional intelligence building activities, check out our  Ways to Use Art to Build EQ or our Inside Out Edible EQ Sensory Bin.

Inside Out Emotions Sensory Bin

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13 Comments

  1. I agree with all of these. I always try to get away from the situation if I’m upset, and try to handle it when I’m calm. I also encourage my toddler to express his emotions as well as he can, without resorting to a meltdown. #ToddlerFunFriday

  2. i find all of these five tools helpful, it’s always good to remind ourselves of tools of calming children, I have a 6 year old who has anxiety and sensory disorder

    1. Thank you, Penny – my daughter does, too, I completely understand. I think we’re more aware of the need to teach those regulation tools as a result 🙂
      Please let me know how your child responds to these ideas!

  3. Wow! Thank you for this. We’ve been having my son “rest his body” but I love the shaking the sillies out and other ideas. He’s 2.5 and just needs some extra help.

  4. First of all, a little background on myself; I am a single parent who has raised a daughter who is neuro- diverse as am I. For my profession, I work with young children ages 2 – 6 with ASD. I use all four of your techniques with my kiddos, but I thought I’d add a few that I found can work as well; gentle pressure, a light squeezing of the arms, hands, legs and/ or feet (or have the child squeeze his/her own hands). A soft caress on their back, back of their neck or behind the ears (or even on the outer edge of the ears). A weighted blanket laid across the lap or wrapping them up snuggly in a blaket (heavier blankets seem to work best). Singing songs and I have one kiddo who prefers a little alone time, I just tell him when he is ready to continue, he can come get me. Each of my kiddos is unique, not all of these techniques will work with them, but there are ussually two or three that work really well.

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