top of page

How to Navigate the Emotions of Your 3 Year Old

The time that a toddler is between the ages of two and three is a time when they are starting to develop their talking and language skills. They are also learning to let people know what they like and what they do not like. This stage is a time when such children act independently. Some children act more independently than others do.

One of the reasons that toddlers act this way is that they want to go as far as they can go. They want to see their potential and reach beyond their limitations. You are probably familiar with the term "me do it" from your child. You've probably heard "no" too. As a parent, you have to quickly learn how to navigate the emotions of a 3 year old.

Your task as a parent is to help your child understand the range of emotions that occur. Two-year-old children have very complex emotional lives. Some of the negative feelings they may start to feel are feelings like embarrassment, guilt, shame and pride. What you should be doing is nurturing the positive feelings that they have like compassion, empathy and love.

Safety Nook navigate child emotions

Toddlers and teenagers are similar in their emotional states sometimes. They may swing like a pendulum. They could be happy when they are getting a popsicle and feel like it's the end of the world when it falls on the floor. They need you to guide them into understanding all of their emotions and help them to deal with each one as it comes. You can tell that your child is struggling with his or her emotions if:

You can't understand the child's words, or the child repeatedly says hurtful things.

Your child says no to something that you think is a favorite treat or activity.

Your child becomes infuriated and starts making gestures that suggest that he or she will throw a toy.

Your child will not accept any substitutes for whatever item that he or she wants. For example, your son or daughter may throw a tantrum if a purple outfit is unavailable. The fact that you offered numerous other clothing does not seem to matter. The child has the mind set on the purple outfit, and that's that. No other options will do.

There are times in life when we have to compromise and times in life when we don't. Do not make your child feel bad about not wanting to compromise.

Safety Nook navigate child emotions

Your child may get angry or quit if he or she cannot get a toy or project to work properly. Those are feelings of frustration. Everyone has them. He or she may return to the project at a later time, or the child may decide that he or she has spent enough time on the dysfunctional project and move on. The thing that you should understand as a parent is that the latter decision is acceptable.

There is no rule that says the child has to work on that specific project if it doesn't work. Your child may express that he or she is managing strong feelings in different ways. You may find that your child:

Asks you for your help.

Reassures himself or herself during frightening times. For example, the child may say aloud, "Everything's going to be alright" or "Someone will make sure that I get back to my mother."

Let's people know that he or she is angry.

Verbally chooses not to break rules because the child has learned the consequences.

Warns you not to break the rules so that you won't get hurt like he or she did.

Challenging or defiant behavior usually means that the child is dealing with an emotion that he or she does not know how to handle. For example, the child may start being mean toward mommy after too much exposure to daddy and grandma. Such a drastic change in emotional output indicates that something deep is going on that the child cannot verbalize at this time.

Coping skills usually develop as children get older. They will get better during the school age and even more as they become adults, if no unfortunate circumstances hinder their development. Here are some tips that you can use to help your toddler and yourself learn important skills:

You may want to read books and talk about the people in the stories and how they are feeling: Gary's mommy loved him a whole lot even though she had to separate from him for a while.

Share your own feelings with the child, as well. "I am happy today even though I don't have much. It feels good to know God. It feels good not to know frustration". You can share those feelings or any other feelings that you have with the child. The child can learn how to express his or her feelings by listening to yours.

Once you teach your child to name their feelings, you can then help them to perform actions that can solve the problem. For example, you can teach them to draw a picture for their mother if they know that their dad or grandmother are going to keep them for a while. You'll find that the picture depicts how they really feel about their mother. They may draw something like a picture of the two holding hands and standing in front of a beautiful green pasture, next to a house.

Safety Nook navigate child emotions


Every child is different from other children, and every child is different from you, as well. You can't assume that your child is feeling a certain way if he isn't. You can't "validate" an emotion that he never says he has. Doing that is likely to cause the child to get angry, but then again maybe it won't.

It depends on the level of self-control that the child has. It's better to ask the child to describe what he is feeling than to try to force a feeling into him that he doesn't want there. For example, silence or lack of communication may be feelings of anger. It may be that the child just doesn't feel like talking to you, or the child has something more meaningful to do.

Don't make a problem where there is none. However, if your child is experiencing difficulty, you may want to suggest that he read a book or you might have to suggest "time out" so that they can reflect on what they did or said.

bottom of page