When Extreme Emotions Take Over a Toddler

Beyond the newborn stage, Lucy (2) has never been a great sleeper during the day. She gave up her 2nd day sleep well before the age of one and has been fighting her now one day sleep since about 18 months of age. When I do manage to get her to sleep, she sleeps like a log and it is not uncommon for her to have up to three hours of sleep. If her sleep gets cut short; however, Lucy wakes up like a bear with a sore head! Today was one of those days. We had been out to lunch with her cousins and so, after running around like crazy all afternoon, she fell asleep in the car on the way home. We transferred her successfully into her cot where she continued sleeping peacefully.

After about 45 minutes, something woke her up and she immediately started crying. Thus began an afternoon with a very upset toddler. We tried everything to calm her down. I held her for what seemed like an eternity to allow her time to cry and express some much needed emotion. I sat with her  calmly as she would lash out between sobs. I gently asked her to tell me how I could help. It seemed she just could not get it together enough to let me know what was wrong. Fast forward over an hour and Lucy was still extremely fragile. If I said the wrong thing, went to the wrong room, gave her the wrong drink bottle, or tried to move away from where she was, she would lose it. It was getting late and approaching bath and dinner time. My anxiety levels were rising as I knew this was going to be a potentially difficult time for all of us. I knew, though, that I could not let this anxiety show. Lucy needed me to be a rock for her during this tough time. If I could not cope, how could I expect her to cope? I had to stay calm and unphased to show her that even when things hit rock bottom, I would be there for her and love her unconditionally.

Now, when things are going pear shaped with the kids, painting is not normally something I would recommend or indeed try myself but when I asked Lucy what she would like to do, she spotted a paint brush out of the corner of her eye and cried out ‘painting, *sob, sob’. Funnily enough, a friend of mine had sent me a message a week or so ago showing me this great idea for doing painting in the bath tub. So I decided that I would go with it and much to Lucy’s delight I said ‘Yes, lets do some painting’.

Well, you should have seen her little face light up. I think I even heard her exclaim ‘Yippee!’ We collected the paint brushes from the cupboard, found my stash of shaving cream, pulled out the old muffin tin from amongst the baking trays and located all my food colours hiding in the pantry. Lucy could hardly contain her excitement as I carefully filled each muffin hole with shaving foam and then dropped some food colour on top of each one. She called out the colours as I dropped each one in and then watched with amazement as I dropped a little bit of yellow onto the blue dye, making it turn green.


Gone were the dark clouds that had shadowed her afternoon, Lucy was now chomping at the bit to get into her bath. She climbed in with her paintbrush at the ready and engaged in some tongue-out design work all over the bath tub and surrounding tiles. At the end of it, it all easily washed down the drain and I was so surprised at what we had achieved.



In the face of what seemed to be a winless battle, I had held my nerve, stayed present with my little girl when she was in need of help and turned our evening from one of screaming and sobbing to one of joy and laughter. I am once again indebted to Janet Lansbury  and RIE for teaching me that my children look to me for guidance in their times of trouble. Where, in the past I might have carried a screaming child into the bath for a quick bath and then straight to bed; tonight I feel I connected with my daughter at a deep level that only a parent can. Throughout her hours of feeling extreme forms of emotion, I showed her that my love for her is unconditional and that it is ok to feel sad, angry and frustrated at times.

When we finally carried Lucy to bed tonight, she was relaxed and happy and rolled over in her cot after our whisperings of ‘good night, We love you’ and we are now hopeful she will sleep peacefully until morning.

Yes, Kate from An Everyday Story, sometimes good things happen when you say ‘Yes!’

20 thoughts on “When Extreme Emotions Take Over a Toddler

  1. An Everyday Story

    Jack and Sarah know when I am stressed or feeling emotional and their behaviour reflects this. I know that our feelings and emotions are just as important and valid too but like you were saying we need to be their rock. Honestly, this is the thing I struggle with the most; seeing past the screaming and whining and not letting it get to me. You all must have had a most challenging afternoon but how wonderful that you were able to turn it around for Lucy who even though she couldn’t tell you what was upsetting her, needed connection which you were able to give her.

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      It absolutely has to be the most difficult thing, Kate. To turn off your emotions when they are running hot and to remain calm in the face of extreme persistent yelling, crying and lashing out, goes against what you feel you need to do to look after yourself. I have found it so amazing and strangely empowering to have experiences like this with Lucy. The closeness we feel for each other for days afterwards makes it totally worthwhile to have put my own feelings second at these times. We have had some beautiful, quality moments together today (the day after) and I know its because of what we endured together last night. xx

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  18. April B

    This could have been describing a day with my child word for word! I desperately need help! How can I help my toddler? I am at my wits end. I am a parent with intense emotions, and that makes it a million times harder to stay calm myself.

    1. peacefulparentsconfidentkids Post author

      Hi April, I would start by naming the emotions your child is feeling. If you’re not 100% sure you could simply say that you can see she is upset. Accepting that emotions (all of them) are a normal and healthy part of a child’s development helps to take away some of the stress we feel as a parent. We do not need to stop or fix the emotions, just be there to help, support and love them through it. They will do the hard work themselves and once they have worked through it, they will be free to move forward. i hope that helps.


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