My 2 year old TOT, Rach, will feel so much anger when she doesn’t get her way that she explodes: loud screaming of NO, foot stamping and throwing punches. When people talk about the terrible twos, I think what makes it so tough is the expression/explosion of emotions, most often preceded by a TOT not getting his/her way. Most of us deal with the terrible twos by ignoring the explosion or punishing the bad behaviour that comes with the explosion.
Going through changes
I started to reflect back on whether Rach has always had a bad temper or whether this particularly frustrating trait appeared when she turned 2. Rach has actually always experienced anger and frustration. I remember her feeling frustrated when she was littler and would express this through loud screaming and crying. When she felt frustrated because her milk was not ready, or mama not coming quick enough, or her clothes feeling uncomfortable, she would let me know through the loud screams. It was my job to come and help her process her frustration, firstly by holding her and then by addressing her needs. So why do I treat her toddler anger differently? Why do I ignore or punish these emotional explosions?
The challenge from one sister to another
As hard as it is for me, I am trying to understand that my daughter’s anger is PURPOSEFUL. We all feel angry when we don’t get our way or we feel we have been unfairly treated. In Rachel’s mind, when she wants to do something and I don’t agree, she feels this is unfair! If I ignore her feelings of unfairness, that feels even MORE unfair. If I punish her for those feelings, that is MORE MORE unfair. That’s why the tantrum escalates – the anger about all the unfairness gets too big to handle.
According to Camille (thanks sis!), I need to try this feeling better basket thing… Follow me on the journey of trying to deal with emotional explosions and sensory overload in a different way!
1. Prepare a feeling better basket
- A feeling better basket is packed with things that your child can use to deal with emotional or sensory overload.
- Here’s some stuff that could go inside:
- Your basket should be customised to your child needs. Not every child calms down in the same way. Experiment with a few things and follow your child’s interests. Your basket should include things that feel good for your child to look at, touch, smell and hear.
- We like the idea of a basket as opposed to a box it is inviting and more natural than a plastic container.
- The basket is like a ‘safe place’ that has a few tools to help little people with their emotions.
2. Prepare yourself for emotions
Our children are going to have bad days and days when their emotions are too big for them to handle. Like Scar sings in The Lion King: BE PREPARED! We want our child to feel safe to feel any emotion (including anger and frustration and sadness). However, not all behaviour is okay. We need to help them cope with their emotions by teaching them the appropriate ways to use their emotions that doesn’t cause harm.
I know that my parenting often makes Rachel angry as she feels I am not letting her do what she wants. She’s right – I am doing things for her that she doesn’t understand. She is too little to understand that it is not safe to run into the road, or grab all the sweets as we wait in the queue, or go to bed at a later time. For her, these things are unfair and I am forcing her to do things my way. While I need to prepare myself for explosions, I also need to prepare myself for her lack of understanding. We have a mantra in my house that my hubby says to me when I am expecting her to understand my grown-up ways: “She’s just little”.
3. Mirror back and validate the feeling
Here’s how the latest explosion went down:
Me: Rach, in five minutes we need to come inside and eat supper.
Rach: (Looks at me and nods)
(7 minutes pass – it took long to defrost her dinner okay!)
Me: Time to eat Rach (I shout from the kitchen – my first mistake. She always listens better if I meet her where she is at)
Rach: NOOOOOOOOO!!!! (Tantrum time commencing in 5…. 4…. 3….2….1…. Throws herself on the grass. Throws her nearest toy at my head – a soft ball this time, thank goodness. Her legs and arms are kicking. There are tears running down her face in frustration. She looks at me like I am the devil)
Me: (Breathe. Remember it is not personal. This is normal for a 2 year old. She thinks I am being unfair. She is letting me know she feels she is being treated unfair. That’s a good thing – it means she may stand up and fight for herself in other unfair situations. Be calm. Remember she is just little. I come down to her level, try to make eye contact and keep my distance). Rach, I can see you are feeling very angry (this is called mirroring the feeling!)
Me: I know you would love to keep playing outside. It is so fun to play outside, Much more fun than eating supper (this is me validating the feeling by letting her know I get why she is angry)
Rach: NOT hungry!
4. Offer the feeling better basket
Me: You are feeling angry because I said it is time to eat. Let me bring you the feeling better basket. I am here to help you calm down. Once you are feeling a bit better, we can talk, okay. I am going to put this timer on and it will tell us when time is up.
Your child may be different, but Rach needs alone time once she’s exploded. I still need to be near her, but give her space to do a sensory activity or look at a story quietly.
5. Return to the emotion after the explosion
Me: Rach, I know you got very angry earlier. It is okay to feel angry. But it is not okay to throw things at mama when you are angry as you can hurt me. I also don’t want you to hurt yourself when you get angry.
You can also talk about what anger feels like when it is coming and what to do when the anger is coming. It can also help to offer real ideas of things to do instead of exploding, like taking a giant breath and blowing it out or asking for help or expressing needs in a respectful way.
To be human means we experience lots of emotions, not just the nice ones. I want my little person to be allowed to express her feelings. I want her to be able to calm herself down and regulate her own emotions as she gets older. Her feelings will help her understand and make sense of the world. What I think is really helpful about the feeling better basket is that it offers Rachel some time to sit with an emotion. Instead of just reacting, she is invited into a quiet, calm space where she can let her emotions out in healthy way. By giving her a minute or two to step away from the situation and clear her head, she can make better choices.
Try the feeling better basket and let us know if it worked for your little person. Remember to customise your basket and experiment with what works for you!