Emotions and learning are like oil and water…they don’t mix! That’s why the moment when your toddler is struggling to escape the car seat is not the best time to give him a lecture about deaths on the highway. Even adults become more unreasonable and illogical when we’re upset.

So, it should be no surprise that your toddler can’t hear you until the tidal wave of his emotions starts to subside. When your child enters caveman mode, energetically acknowledge his dismay, and then, once he calms a bit, you can try to distract him, reassure him, or solve the problem.

Here are some other things you might do and say after the storm has passed when it becomes your turn:

  • Be physical. Offer a hug, tousle his hair, put a hand on his shoulder, or just sit quietly together.
  • Whisper. Whispering is a fun way to change the subject and reconnect.
  • Give options. “We can’t have soda, but how about some yummy milk?”
  • Explain your point of view…briefly. Save important lessons for a calm time, later on, when he can pay better attention.
  • Teach how to express feelings. “Make a face to show me see how sad you are,” or “When I’m mad, I stomp my feet, like this…” (Here’s more on how to teach your toddler to express their emotions.)
  • Talk about how emotions feel, physically. “You were so mad, I bet you felt like your blood was boiling!” or “When I’m scared, my heart goes boom boom like a drum.”
  • Grant your child’s wish…in fantasy. (This is one of my favorites.) “I wish I could vroom up all the rain and we could go outside and play right now!”
  • Give a “you-I” message. Once the dust settles and it’s your turn to talk, very briefly share your feelings using a “you-I” sentence to help your toddler learn to understand the feelings of others: “When you kick Mommy, I feel mad!” or “When you call me ‘stupid,’ I feel very sad inside.”

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.