Toddlers aren’t famous for their patience and composure. They live in a world of limited power, control, expression, and dexterity, so becoming easily frustrated is actually quite common during this developmental stage. However, if a toddler’s irritation is seeping into every activity, it’s important to know how to respond and manage this behavior. Even though these behaviors are common and expected, it doesn’t mean that kicking, throwing toys, thrashing, and screaming need to be a part of your daily life.
Strategies for Dealing with a Frustrated Toddler
Frustration is an emotion that can spread like a wildfire. If your toddler is constantly feeling frustrated, chances are you’re feeling the effects. It’s easy to become annoyed when you’re repeatedly watching your little one lose their cool. But remember that there’s value in learning to deal with the many human emotions. Controlling anger is part of growing up and becoming a compassionate member of society.
The first step in managing a toddler’s anger is to remain calm and in control during fits of frustration. Remember that when they’re angry, they’re feeling insecure. If a parent or caregiver can’t remain calm and composed in these situations, there’s a very small chance that a toddler will be able to get it together on their own. While this is always easier said than done, it’s a necessary step. Giving them a sense of security and control can lay the groundwork for learning coping skills.
Besides remaining calm, here are some other strategies for parents and caregivers to ease their frustrated toddler:
- Try to identify triggers. Start to take note of the situations where your child is quick to jump to anger. Is it when they’re expected to share a toy? Not getting enough attention? Attempting to do a puzzle? Trying to get dressed? Do outbursts happen during a specific time of day? Narrowing down trigger points can help you predict upcoming aggression and begin to understand where the anger is coming from.
- Don’t jump to punishment. When a toddler acts out in anger, frustration, disappointment, or sadness, directly responding with punishment will only increase hostility and will likely spark resentment. The point is to acknowledge these feelings and find a way to express them in an appropriate way. Remember that we’re not trying to wipe a human emotion off the map. The aim is for your little one to find appropriate ways to express their feelings.
- Use positive reinforcement when they’re calm. Recognize when they’re calm and expressing pro-social behavior, especially in situations that typically lead to frustration. “Wow, that puzzle was really hard, but you did it all by yourself.” “I know it took a long time to get through the grocery line, but you were patient and very well-behaved. Thank you!”
- Set boundaries. It’s important for children to understand that being violent or aggressive is unacceptable. When setting boundaries, you can acknowledge their frustration and put your foot down at the same time. For instance, “I know you don’t like sitting in your car seat, but it’s not okay to hit me.”
- Use humor to diffuse the situation. When it’s appropriate, using humor can help lighten the mood. Teasing is not recommended, but making a joke out of the situation can go a long way. For instance, if your child starts to become angry because they can’t put on their socks, you can laugh out loud and say: “Those are the silly socks! No wonder you can’t get them on! We’re on to you, you silly socks! Let’s find new socks and put those on instead.”
Remember that having patience is essential when it comes to teaching coping skills. Acknowledging feelings and setting limitations is a balancing act. In other words, it’s frustrating to teach a toddler to cope with frustration! It’ll take time, energy, and patience, and it won’t happen overnight. But soon enough, maturity will take the reins and you’ll start to notice your little one’s ability to self-regulate.