If your toddler is anything like mine you’ve no doubt been yelled at for giving the wrong colour spoon, or because you put sunscreen on their left arm before their right. Toddler meltdowns are a normal part of development and asserting their independence as their own complete person, but there are some great strategies you can start implementing at this young age to help toddlers develop the social-emotional communication skills to help you communicate more effectively.
1 - Introduce Emotions in Playtime
Including emotions in your toddler's play activities can play a big role in helping with self-regulation in the future.
Books are a great way to talk about the emotions of the characters in the story. For toddlers, simple books like Baby Faces that feature real faces of real babies showing different emotions (happy, angry, sad, etc.) allows them to recognize and label emotions.
The Making Faces Magnetic Set from Manhattan Toy or the Emotions Magnetic Game by Janod are great tools for home or the classroom. Kids can use the magnetic pieces to create faces displaying a variety of emotions. When they are older you can talk about the reason behind the emotion. “He looks sad. Why do you think he’s sad?”
Todd Parr Feelings Flash Cards are another great tool for young children to begin to identify and talk about emotions.
All of these materials help children develop the language to talk about emotions. It’s important not to only talk about emotions when they are being felt, but to talk about them when everyone is calm as well.
2 - Model Your Own Emotions
Children learn by watching our behaviour. When you feel frustrated, sad or upset by something try to explain how you are feeling and why. “Mommy is sad because I broke my sunglasses and I really liked them”. This not only helps your children to adopt the language to talk about their emotions but shows them that it’s safe to feel and talk about emotions with you.
3 - Acknowledge Your Child’s Emotions
Have you ever been upset about something and had someone say to you “it’s ok, calm down”? That probably made you even more upset, right? Yet, this is what we tend to do all the time with our children and somehow we expect they will calm down. Instead, try verbally acknowledging their emotion. Saying “I can see you’re really angry. You really wanted the pink spoon and I gave you the orange one” allows them to properly label their emotion and shows them you understand, which helps them to calm down.