The 3 Things I Do When My Toddler Melts Down That will Help Build Emotional Intelligence

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by Christina Perez

 

The following was syndicated from Medium for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

An interesting thing happened last Saturday. I was sitting in my office, contemplating what to topic to tackle for this week’s podcast, when I noticed my daughter’s head poking through a crack in the door:

“What are you doing, Mommy?”

“I am working, my love.”

“But I want you!” she proclaimed.

“I will be out soon to have lunch with you. So go play in the playroom, or ask Granny to get your crayons for you.”

She pushes the door further open and yells, “No, Mommy! I want you NOW!”

I put down my journal, stopped working, and gave her my full attention.

Her body was tensing up, her face was getting red, and her eyes were expressing a deep need.

What!?! Her eyes were expressing a deep need?!

Here’s the thing:

My daughter is 4. And although I’m consistently amazed at her vocabulary, I’m also keenly aware that she’s only been speaking English for the better part of 2 years.

I, on the other hand, have been speaking English for 38 years and I still freeze up when expressing my needs. Sometimes it’s hard for any of us to use our words to describe how we are feeling. Go figure.

I wasn’t exactly sure what she was asking for but I knew it had nothing to do with the ball.

I get it. She has a need she wants to express, she doesn’t yet have the capability to express that need and that’s pretty frustrating…even a 4 year-old knows that.

So I spoke: “Come here a minute and let’s have a snuggy.”

She looked at me, walked over to my exercise ball and gave it a good smack, which then caused it to roll over and hit my leg.

“No! I want you to help me with this ball!”

Oh dear…

I wasn’t exactly sure what she was asking for but I knew it had nothing to do with the ball.

When I asked her to tell me more about what she wanted to do with the ball, she lost it. She started punching the ball and screaming, “I just want you to help me! I just want you to help me!!”

Tears started pouring from her eyes and she threw herself on the floor. She repeated the same 7 words over and over while kicking and punching the rug.

I sat back in my chair, took a deep, slow breath and scanned my own body for any tension.

I said softly and confidently, “I see you are upset right now and that it feels good for you to push the floor. Get all of those sads out and you will feel better. I am right here for you if you want me to hold you.”

I wasn’t trying to do anything.
I wasn’t trying to distract her.
I wasn’t trying to talk her out of it.
I wasn’t trying to dismiss her.

I was just there for her.

I showed her that it is okay to experience emotions.

I sat taking deep breaths and putting my full attention on her. A couple of times, I put down a cushion where I thought she might hurt herself on a table leg and a shelf corner, but then sat back down.

“I see you sweetheart. I am right here,” I reassured her in a calm tone.

The tantrum lasted about 6 minutes.

For my mother, who was in the other room, it felt like hours. She popped her head in at one point, desperate to be the one who would calm her somehow. I just put my hand up and gave her a smile and a gesture that everything was okay.

When I saw that my daughter’s body had started to relax on the floor and her crying had shifted to a stuttering inhalation, I invited her softly to let me hold her. She climbed into my lap, wrapped her arms around my neck, and hid her face in my shirt.

“I love you so much,” I said, as I brushed back her hair from her face.

“I love you, Mommy,” she said as she squeezed me tighter.

I sat holding her for a few minutes and rubbed her back. I didn’t say anything. When she lifted her head to look at me. I kissed her cheeks and smiled.

“I want to go play with my babies now,” she said.

“Ok, my love. I will see you at lunch time.”

She jumped down, gave me a huge grin, and said: “Do your work, Mommy. See you at lunch!”

Off she went, closing the door behind her.

Just out of curiosity, I looked at the time. The whole production, from the time she opened the door to closing it, was about 17 minutes.

In just under 20 minutes, I was able to show her how to channel her emotions in 3 easy steps.

3 Very Important Strategies That Are Building Her Emotional Intelligence
1. No matter what emotions she needs to express, I love her just the same. My love and support is unconditional.

2. No matter how huge or long the tantrum, she cannot trigger me. I am there for her, solid, calm, validating her feelings and offering my support.

3. I showed her that it is okay to experience emotions. Sadness and frustration are normal emotions to feel. By not offering her any tactics to stuff them down or any distraction, she was able to fully experience the emotion and feel what it is like to move completely through it. This is strengthening her ability to navigate strong feelings on her own.

When our children experience strong emotions, it is an opportunity to connect with them. We can help them by offering language to label their feelings and needs so they are better able to communicate them in the future.

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Emotional and social intelligence grows and develops through relationship and primarily through the experiences that a child has with his or her parents.

When we offer our children empathy and help them to cope with negative feelings like anger, sadness and fear, we create a foundation of loyalty and trust that our children carry with them throughout their lives.

One thing to add here would be that, although all feelings and emotions are acceptable and deserve empathy, not all behavior is acceptable.

For example, if your child is trying to hit you, that is not acceptable. You can say, “I will not let you hurt my body. If you need to hit something, you may hit the bed or this pillow to get these feelings out.”

It is important to support your child and be a witness to their expression, but safety first!

Christina Perez is an early childhood teacher and parent educator. She also hosts the Little Sprigs Podcast. You can read more from Christina here:

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