A Heart for Toddlers - Emotions

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Dr Emmi Pikler knew the significance of an aware adult. Her wise words ring in our heart constantly, "It is not just about technique but how I am with myself". This quote is very poignant and we hope it helps us all reflect on 'how' we are with children's sadness and anger, especially with toddlers who are developing their own ‘will’. 

“What is essential is to observe.  Get to know your child.  If you really recognise what your child needs, if you feel what is causing him grief, feel what she needs, then you will respond in the right way. You will guide and bring up your child well” – Emmi Pikler.

Riding the wave of emotion

Ask yourself this question: Do we allow the child to ride the wave of emotion and experience the real feelings without distracting them or stopping them due to our own discomfort?

If we allow and stay present, the biggest gift we give the child is our 'full attention'. We do not have to fix it, sort it, make peace all the time. If we have created a safe space for the child and let them ride the wave of emotion they will be downloading that 'it is OK for me to feel and be with this emotion'. They will develop a strong sense of self. 

As they are growing it is important for the child to find their physical balance. It is just as important for them to find their emotional balance.

Supporting their feelings

It is very important that they feel an innate sense of 'I am and I can and I am OK'. From a child's perspective they are always asking ...Do you hear me? Can you see me? Do you really know me? Can I trust you and do you trust me? What a different world it would be if the adults could see, acknowledge, allow and be present to support the child through their feelings.

Toddlers have a strong desire to be independent.  They want to be able to make their own choices, participate in their own daily care, and complete their own tasks.  

A toddler, being able to move around and control their hand – they are pure learning beings – you’ll note people saying they are suddenly into everything!  Yes, and with this comes the sense of personal will – the will is the power the child has take over when they meet an obstacle in their path as passionate learners.  

People think the toddler can turn it off and on but they can’t.  It is an energy response and is designed so the child has the energy to overcome obstacles and get on with the task of discovery. 

Obstacles to exploring the world

And there are many obstacles to the singleminded way that toddlers explore the world.  They have two conflicting key drives – exploration and attachment.  

They are saying to us “I still need you” and protesting “but I can do it myself” at the same time. What a challenge! 

In our culture we often see the will as something ‘bad’, an obstacle, something that has to be broken.  Especially in young children.  We have all heard people say – you have to show him who is boss; she’s just having you on; don’t let him rule the roost; it’s either you or her.  -

I want this, but I also want that!

Tantrums are a signal of helplessness and fear, even though they may give the opposite impression: that the child is trying to be more powerful than we are. A tantrum develops when a child feels that he has no control over his circumstances: he wants things to be different, but he is helpless to bring about those changes. 

Some wise words from Marshall Rosenberg: 

Conflict is usually considered something to avoid, and parents often think that something is wrong with them or their children if conflict arises.  Conflict is actually pointing out to you a problem that needs solving.  Conflict is an opportunity to connect more deeply with your needs and the needs of another person.  Welcome it.  

Part of being a toddler is wanting it all – now! And all at the same time!  I want to go with Grandma and stay with Mum.  I want to go on the swing first, and on the slide first.  I want to explore the world and stay close – remember those key drives – if we don’t understand them it is hard to be responsive and also to not take the clinginess and/or rejection to heart.  

The toddler and his emerging will needs you. Close proximity, calmness. They may not quite show it, but they do want you.

“When we connect at heart level whatever it is will be worked out” – M. Rosenberg.  

Be there for them, connect at heart level, acknowledge their feelings.  At the heart of the partnership is a child’s recognition that they have a caregiver who can be counted on to lovingly provide tenderness, comfort, firm guidance and protection whilst they are in your care. If the truth be told, all of us have this need some of the time, no matter what our age.

Want more? Check out our new toolkit "A Heart for Toddlers".