Our Privacy/Cookie Policy contains detailed information about the types of cookies & related technology on our site, and some ways to opt out. By using the site, you agree to the uses of cookies and other technology as outlined in our Policy, and to our Terms of Use.


Toddler Talk: The Importance of Timing

I often find myself comforting my son as result of his newest injury, and while I am hugging him and wiping away his tears, I am fighting the need to explain to him that standing on chairs is not safe and that is why I ask him to sit on his bottom. However, I know and believe that in the emotion of the moment is not the time to do so.

In the Filial Training by Landreth and Bratton, one of the rules of thumb is, “When a child is drowning, do not try to teach him to swim.” In other words, it is better to handle the immediacy of the circumstance (the injury or fear or anger) and address the moral or lesson to be learned at a later time when the emotion has lessened.

This second rule in this series is especially important for toddlers who do not understand or regulate emotions well. The more they are caught up in the emotion of the situation, the less likely they are to hear or process cognitively. Essentially, emotions running high keep the child’s focus at the heart; discussing why he needed to behave differently places the focus in the head. These two warring areas just make for frustrations for both you and the child if you expect them to occur simultaneously.

Instead of trying to impart a lesson in the heat of the moment, here are tips to effectively manage both the crisis and the importance of the rule.

1. Calmly soothe and comfort your child first. This will not only model emotional regulation and self-monitoring for your kid, but it will allow you to practice reflecting feelings.

2. Determine the root of the emotional component. Sometimes what we think is anger is really fear, aggression is really worry, hurt is really embarrassment. This allows you to practice “I wonder” statements.

3. Determine a neutral time later in the day, when neither of you is hungry or tired, to briefly and kindly bring up what might be learned from the experience earlier. This is not meant to criticize or blame, but to help the child learn from it.

Teaching lessons and rules to our kids is not only part of our responsibility as parents, but also a privilege. If we remember not to do so when they are overwhelmed with emotion, they are much more likely to receive it and remember it. That is the goal, and it makes the job of instruction much easier for us and them!

More from toddler