13 - 15 Months

5 co-regulation tips to help your toddler manage their feelings

Father holding an upset baby

When your toddler is upset, it can be hard to know what to do ❤️

During the newborn stage, you helped your baby calm down by holding them, rocking them, and taking deep breaths. Now the process is getting more complicated. Your child’s emotions become more complex as they get older. Sometimes they don’t want to be held or the strategies that were so reliable a few months ago don’t work. 

Co-regulation is the process of showing your toddler how to manage emotions by doing it together. This can be difficult but effective. The next time your toddler is upset, try these five expert tips.

1. Acknowledge their feelings

Sometimes all your toddler needs is to know that they’re understood. If your toddler starts crying because the cat ran away from them, try simply stating in a calm and empathetic tone, “You really wanted to pet the cat.” This can be a surprisingly effective way to handle those big feelings before they get out of control.

2. Match your toddler’s emotional tone but not the volume

Whether your toddler is really, really excited or really, really distressed, using a softer version of their emotional tone can help them start to regulate. If your toddler is crying hard because their grandmother had to go home, you could say in a sad voice, “You are so disappointed that Grandma left. I am sad about it, too.”

3. Help your toddler understand the situation

If your child is frightened, stating what happened can ease their anxiety. “I heard that loud noise, too! That was the garbage truck driving by. Let’s see if we can see it outside.” Demystifying the causes of distress can help your toddler regulate the next time they get startled.

4. Try positive redirection

Redirecting your toddler’s attention away from whatever upset them can be an effective strategy when timed right. If your toddler is in the midst of a major meltdown, distracting them with a fun toy probably won’t work. But if they’re a little frustrated or sad or starting to calm a bit after an emotional storm, research shows that redirection and distraction can be helpful.

When you redirect your toddler’s attention, try shifting it to something that meets a similar need. For example, if your toddler is sad that the cat doesn’t want their affection, you could find a stuffed animal for them to pet: “Charlie doesn’t want to be petted right now. Let’s see which one of your stuffed animals is the softest and give it some cuddles together.” 

5. Co-regulate

After acknowledging your toddler’s feelings, try quietly holding them or sitting close. At times, talking can add to their emotional overload. Take a few deep breaths, relax your own body, and let them know you’re there for them with your calm presence. Sometimes, your toddler needs to experience their feelings before they can start to breathe more slowly and relax their body to match yours.  

Learn more about the research

Deichmann, F., & Ahnert, L. (2021). The terrible twos: How children cope with frustration and tantrums and the effect of maternal and paternal behaviors. Infancy, 26(3), 469-493.

Eisenberg, N., & Sulik, M. J. (2012). Emotion-related self-regulation in children. Teaching of Psychology, 39(1), 77-83.


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Posted in: 13 - 15 Months, 16 - 18 Months, 19 - 21 Months, 22 - 24 Months, Social Emotional, Behavior, Lovevery App, Parenting, Child Development

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