Understanding your toddler
Feelings, tantrums and fears
There are things you can do to help your toddler learn about feelings, manage tantrums and cope with fears.
You can help your toddler learn about their feelings by:
- being a good role model - managing your own emotions helps children learn to manage theirs
- naming feelings so your toddler learns that they are something you can talk about and learn to manage - for example, ‘I think you’re feeling sad because Daddy had to go to work’ or ‘I can see you’re feeling very cross’
- separating feelings from behaviour - for example, ‘I know you feel cross but it’s not OK to hit, when you feel cross you can tell me’
- reading stories that show children having different kinds of feelings like angry, happy, sad and afraid
- helping children understand the difference between their own feelings and other people’s - it takes many years to learn but you can start when your child is very young.
Most toddlers have tantrums. It’s a normal part of growing up and becoming independent.
A tantrum is a sign your child is overwhelmed by feelings and needs your help to calm down. You can:
- let them know you understand how they feel as they let out all those big feelings
- once they are calm, remind them you love them
- help them learn from what happened
- be patient - it takes time for your toddler to learn about feelings and to control their behaviour.
Read more about children and tantrums.
The world can seem very scary for toddlers because there are lots of things they don’t know yet. They don’t understand that:
- you will come back soon - they don’t understand time
- they can’t fall down the plug hole in the bath or get flushed down the toilet - they don’t understand size and space
- they can’t lose parts of their body if they are hurt - they don’t understand their bodies are all part of them
- the monsters in their dreams won’t get them - they don’t understand what is real and what is not.
Things to try
Below are some things you can try for different fears your toddler might have:
Fear of cuts and bruises
Put a band-aid on sores and hurts even if there is no need for it.
Try a kiss on the injury first - sometimes that’s all that’s needed.
Scared of going down the plug hole
Let your child use a baby bath for a while, or at least don’t pull out the plug while they are still in the bath.
Let them use a potty instead of the toilet or let them flush the toilet with your help.
Scared by nightmares
If they have a nightmare tell them: ‘It is only a dream, it goes away, and you’re safe’.
Cuddle and comfort your child until they settle. Read more about sleep and your child.
Afraid of monsters
Tell them there are no monsters. Don’t look for monsters in the room - your toddler might think you believe they are actually there.
Fear of separation
Stay with your child until they feel more secure. Make sure they have their comfort toy with them.
Scared of the dark
Stay with your child for a while to reassure them. Perhaps use a night light.
Keep to bedtime routines - eg: the same number of kisses goodnight or the same story.
Let your child know you understand their fears and you don’t think they are silly or babyish.
Don’t force them to face their fears. It can often make things worse.
Children usually grow out of fears with lots of support and understanding.
If fears are really interfering with their life, talk it over with a professional who works with children.
Last updated: 11 March 2016