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Oregon Family Magazine

The Emotional Highs and Lows of a Toddler

08/01/2023 ● By Parenting Now!
One-year olds are filled with big emotions: joy, love, and excitement—but also fear, anger, and frustration. So many big, strong feelings to experience over the course of a day! Imagine having all these big feelings and not yet having the ability to talk about or understand them. 

Learning how to manage these emotions is a big job for your child—it’s also a big job for you as the parent. Think of yourself as your child’s guide as they depart on their emotional journey. You can support and guide your child by acknowledging and naming feelings: “I know you are sad to leave the park, you are having so much fun.”

As parents, it can be hard to stay calm when your child is upset. Whenever possible, avoid responding to your child’s upset with anger, ridicule, or by telling them how they should feel. For example, a phrase like, “It’s your birthday party, you should be having fun, not getting upset,” would not be helpful for a toddler who doesn’t yet have the cognitive ability to understand that concept. 

How to help your child manage big emotional upsets

Start by imagining what it is like to be a one-year old: you are driven to explore the world, and learn and practice independence, but then something always seems to get in your way–baby gates, someone telling you “no,” or a new object being taken away from you just as you were starting to have fun with it. You would feel frustrated, powerless, and mad.

When your child is upset, what helps your child most in these moments is a calm and steady parent. You might need to take some deep breaths and remind yourself that this moment will pass; that upsets are temporary and are all a part of learning.

It can feel especially overwhelming when your child gets upset in public, and it can be hard to respond in a calm and collected manner. It can feel like all eyes are watching you–just remember that most people either are parents themselves, have raised children or worked with children, have siblings or other relatives, and are more sympathetic to your situation than you think. When possible, show empathy and understanding for your child’s upset feelings. This can help your child learn self control. 

In addition, there are steps you can take to prevent upsets from happening: Watch for early signs that an upset is about to happen, such as being hungry or tired, and make sure those needs get met. You can also look for patterns with your child’s upsets: Do they get upset around the same time each day?; Do they seem sensitive to loud noises, or overwhelmed when meeting a new group of people? With some careful observation, you might discover a pattern with your child’s upsets.

One-year olds are experiencing so many new, big feelings every day. Parents, you can use these emotional moments to teach your children about feelings and to build a closer relationship with your child, as well as help them learn and grow. 

This article is adapted from Parenting Now’s Wonderful ONEs curriculum. Parenting Now is a Eugene-based non-profit organization that provides parenting education and support to families with young children. Learn more at