Stay patient while teaching toddlers how to handle strong emotions

kelly shealerOver the past few months, my 3-year-old son has been going through a phase of hitting his brother and sister when he’s angry.

I’ve been working a lot with him, telling him that his angry feelings are okay but that hitting isn’t, and trying to find better ways for him to express that anger. But still, every time he was provoked by his brother or had a toy stolen by his sister, he was quick to hit them.

It has been frustrating for me.

Sometimes, it feels like we keep trying to get the same messages across to our children with no results. We wonder, Why aren’t they getting it? It feels like we’re failing or doing something wrong. But it’s just that it takes time and consistency with young children.

I remind myself of how many times I had to redirect my 1-year-old daughter from pulling books off the shelves. She didn’t get it after the first or second time. It took a lot of time, a lot of patience, and a lot of consistency on my part. It’s the same with a toddler who’s learning to manage emotions.

We may feel sometimes that our children aren’t even listening. But they are. And they’re learning from what we model to them, too. Every time we stay calm when we’re angry, they notice it. Every time we allow strong feelings while stressing limits, they notice it. And this will pay off.

Recently, my oldest son did something to upset my 3-year-old, and I saw my younger son run after him, ready to hit. Even before I could intervene, he stopped. Instead of hitting his brother, he hit the bed. I saw the brief pause — that moment where he gained control of himself and channeled his anger into something that wasn’t going to hurt his brother. That moment was huge.

But even when our children do finally get it, it won’t be 100% of the time. There will still be emotional fights over toys, and times during the day when they’re tired and more easily upset. Even adults have difficulty managing emotions at times, and we don’t always handle our own anger the right way. Our children won’t always, either — because they’re human and because they’re still learning.

We just need to remember to be patient with the process of teaching them.

Author: Kelly Shealer

Kelly Shealer is the mom of 2 active boys and 1 adventurous girl, all born almost exactly 2 years apart. Kelly encourages imaginative play and messy art projects and sees everything as a learning opportunity. She also enjoys the library, relaxing at the beach and cooking Italian food. Kelly is a postpartum doula and API Leader in Frederick, Maryland, USA.

5 thoughts on “Stay patient while teaching toddlers how to handle strong emotions”

  1. What if they’re hitting other kids in daycare for no apparent reason although we’ve been repeating that message for weeks and he’s at the brink of being kicked out of there?

    1. It is hard when our kids are acting-out when not in our care. How old is your son? Do you see the same behavior at home? There are many different possible reasons for your son’s behavior, but so much of the responsibility of discipline while your son is at daycare falls on your childcare provider. If you’d like to discuss this further with an API Leader, connect with your local API Leader or please post your question in the API Neighborhood online forums.

      1. Hi Rita, he’s 4. He sometimes hits us (parents) too, but less than in his daycare. I know this is too complex for advice over a comments section so thanks for the API reference links. We are taking all help we can get. Thanks!

  2. I have the same problem I don’t punish but I intervene and pull him out of the situation I don’t know how to give him the chance to hold himself back he’s so quick and dangerous with brother and other kids. . but i have recently seen him hold back which is exciting

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