Toddlers are very unpredictable. I know for a fact that mine is! One moment they are calm and happy. The next moment they are fussy. During these times they could be sad, crying their eyes out, angry, or even screaming from the top of their lungs. Maybe they’re demonstrating all the above! Whatever the reason may be, there are ways to calm a fussy toddler. Here are some strategies that I have used as a parent that I hope could be useful for you.
1. Follow a consistent schedule.
Toddlers need a predictable and consistent schedule. They like knowing what is in store for them from the moment that they wake up to the moment that they are asleep at night. Having a schedule teaches them the patterns of the day and what to look forward to. As an example, a morning schedule could include something like waking up, brushing their teeth, eating breakfast, and free play. Make sure that you also include separate times for snacks, lunch, and dinner. It’s also never too early to have a schedule placed or hung in your toddler’s main area that you can refer to from time to time. Since toddlers are not able to read a written schedule, attaching pictures for each main routine on the list would be a better option. By keeping to a schedule, you are limiting the element of a surprise, which could be frustrating for many toddlers.
2. Time and transition between activities.
No one at any age, including toddlers, can just stop what they are doing without first giving themselves a mental warning as to when an activity or task will end. A timer can be a handy tool that serves the purpose of providing a visual displaying how much time is left before an activity is over. We have a couple of 2-minute sand timers at home that we use to help our toddler see that when all of the sand is at the bottom, play time is over. Throw in a little chant or song when time’s up to help bring in some fun, while alleviating any stress that may be feeling.
3. Make time for a nap.
When you’re so exhausted, you’re probably not the happiest person to be around. This similar circumstance relates to toddlers when they are tired. Since most toddlers are energetic, on the move, and constantly exploring out of curiosity, they need time to rest and recharge. That’s why naps are crucial not only for their brain development, but also to soothe, calm, and to relax their bodies. If your toddler is not interested in napping, designating some “quiet time” by reading a story or coloring could be beneficial in stimulating naps.
4. Offer items or activities that may help calm them.
Sometimes offering a favorite stuffed animal, a picture to see or hold on to, or a special toy could help soothe a fussy toddler. When my toddler is overly finicky, I usually redirect his attention to his little toy puppy or to activities that he enjoys doing. Presently, he loves pressing buttons (remote control buttons, buttons on our television, buttons on a pop bubble toy, etc.). Using an excited tone in your voice just adds to the overall interest of it as well. Afterall, it’s difficult to be persuaded by a dull commercial. It’s the appealing and animated tone that catches and diverts your attention!
5. Listen to and hug them.
Emotional IQ, or acknowledging one's emotions, is something that toddlers can learn to develop at such a young age. Using words to name their emotions or feelings is the precursor to practicing mindfulness, which is the ability to understand how you are feeling at that given moment. This is something that I teach my students in the classroom- how to identify their feelings. When your toddler is angry, sad, disappointed, etc.- validate their feelings and let them know that you would feel the same if the situation was reversed. For example, I usually tell my little one, “I know you’re angry. I would be angry, too, if someone told me to stop playing when I’m having too much fun.” At the same time, stay with your toddler, be present and patient as they express their emotions, and hug them if needed.
What are some of the strategies that you've tried yourself? I'd love to hear your thoughts!