Pull out these calming phrases when your toddler is on the verge
Toddlers are in that special (mostly exciting) stage between babyhood and preschool that can leave parents wondering… what in the world is happening here?! How did we go from zero to 60 over the state of a banana? They’re called the terrible twos for a reason, right? Sometimes they lose it over the color of a sippy cup or because the dog looked at them funny. Whatever the reason your kid is about to pass the point of no return, you’ve got precious moments to spare. But there’s hope on the horizon—simple calming phrases that have the power to avert tantrums and bring kids back to center.
The next time you see it coming, take one of these phrases out for a spin. There are even a few great tips from Dr. Candice Jones, a board-certified pediatrician practicing in Orlando, Florida, to help you put your best parent-foot forward.
1. “You have a choice.”
When it comes to calming phrases, this is a gimme for any toddler parent. Once children have some vocabulary down, you can start giving them options. This doesn’t mean your home becomes a toddler free-for-all. Instead, offer your kiddo reasonable choices that empower them and encourage problem-solving skills to head off predictable tantrums looming on the horizon.
For example, when you’re rushed to get out the door in the morning, ask your toddler if they’d like to wear their tennis shoes or rain boots. When it’s time to get ready for bed, let them choose between the car pajamas and the star pajamas. Limiting their choices, while still giving them control, “satisfies the need for some independence,” according to Dr. Jones. She also suggests following it up with an affirmation such as, “Rain boots? Smart choice, because today, it’s raining!”
2. “Please stop, because…”
If your toddler is making a poor choice (which, yep, is going to happen a lot), of course, you want to stop the behavior, especially if it’s dangerous to themselves or someone else. However, it’s ok to offer a short explanation of why. You’re treating your child as the human they are, not a robot who should obey your every command without understanding your reasoning, especially as they get older. For example, “Please don’t hit your brother. Hitting hurts.” Use short phrases and specific, toddler-understandable language. Dr. Jones shares that giving your child a reason to stop a behavior can help them make better choices in the future.
3. “I understand you feel…”
When your child makes a poor choice, remember that it’s more than likely a typical toddler behavior. Tantrums, physical responses (throwing, hitting, etc.), and big emotions that result in zero-to-60 emotional reactions are very normal. Offer empathy for their feelings, first and foremost, even if your child was in the wrong. Empathy goes a long way in building a connection with your child so that they’re best able to then receive whatever correction is necessary. Your child will likely not develop empathy until they are closer to four, but you can model it now. Plus, correction is more effective when you offer it with “a spoonful of connection,” Dr. Jones shares.
4. “I’m listening…”
There’s something to be said about the Dr. Frasier Crane approach to parenting. Offering an empathetic ear to your toddler is an effective way to connect and give them space to work through those big feelings before they escalate. It’s especially effective when you get down on their level, name their feeling (as suggested above), and prompt them to tell you about it. It may take a minute, but it’s crazy cool to see the way anger transforms into sadness with this simple phrase.
5. “Let’s play together.”
It’s one thing to tell kids of any age any sort of directions, but it’s another to practice it. Role-play with your toddler to help them figure out frustrating or confusing situations that can cause meltdowns. Use dolls, action figures, or even family members to act out a familiar scenario—and then act out the wrong way (with sad faces) and then the right way (happy faces, high-fives, etc.). When you’re done, tell your child, “We worked together to solve a problem! Yay!”
Always do this when your child is regulated; don’t try to teach a lesson in the heat of the moment. If you missed that before-the-storm window, you can always tack this one on at the end when your kiddo has reached the other side.
6. “Can I give you a hug?”
When we see our little one getting ready to erupt, it’s only natural to want to run the other way. But sometimes when you lean in and offer comfort rather than a disappointed look, it’s just what kids need to regulate those overwhelming emotions and calm down. Just remember, it’s important to model consent, even when diffusing your ticking time bomb. And don’t be surprised if you get turned down; not all kids want comfort when they’re working through things. But the moment you get the green light, go for it.
7. “I’m here when you need me.”
What could be more reassuring to your overwhelmed toddler than this simple phrase? Letting them know you’re here for them is an easy way to support them and model that their feelings are not only valid, but they’re also pretty typical. Plus, there are variations of this one you can pull out depending on the situation. “How can I help?” and “Can I show you another way?” both fall into this category.
8. “Let’s take a deep breath.”
Of all the calming phrases on our list, this one comes with its own song, thanks to Daniel Tiger. Sure, they’ve heard this one a time or two, but kids can always count on deep breathing to turn a not-so-great situation around. Trust us, it’s science. Taking a deep breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system, increases oxygen in your bloodstream, and stimulates relaxation. In short, it helps kids find equilibrium. The next time your toddler’s train is about the derail, help them “take a deep breath and count to four.” You can also encourage them to blow out a candle (where your finger is the candle) if they need something to focus on.
All of these phrases that help toddlers calm down show your kiddo that you love them and that you’re here for them, no matter what they’re feeling (remember, tantrums are a typical and important stage of their development). A present, responsive parent is a loving parent. By showing up, you’re establishing an expectation that you’ll always be there for them, through thick and thin.