Toddler Meltdowns: How to deal with them in the moment

Toddler meltdowns, influenced by their stage of development, emotional capacity, and burgeoning desire for independence, can arise from a variety of reasons.

Implementing effective strategies to support your toddler during these moments is crucial for maintaining their emotional wellbeing and fostering a positive parent-child relationship. Parental support, understanding, and effective strategies for managing toddler meltdowns can help toddlers learn to regulate their emotions and cope with frustration as they continue to grow and develop.

In this article, we offer practical strategies to provide the necessary support and comfort in the moment, plus some tips to preventing toddler meltdowns.

How to deal with toddler meltdowns in the moment

Dealing with a toddler meltdown requires a patient, respectful, empathetic, and understanding approach. However, there are certain strategies that are not effective, can be harmful, and can even exacerbate the situation. Before we look at some strategies to help your toddler in the moment, let’s highlight how NOT to deal with an emotional meltdown first:

How NOT to deal with an emotional meltdown

  1. With time-outs
  2. Yelling or scolding
  3. Ignoring them
  4. Punishing or threatening
  5. Attempting to reason
  6. Offering sweets or treats
  7. Giving them too many choices
  8. Comparing them to other children (for example, their siblings)
  9. Forcing hugs or other physical comfort
  10. Rushing them through their emotions
  11. Using screens as distraction
  12. Dismissing their feelings
  13. Joining the meltdown yourself
  14. Criticising their behaviour
  15. Being inconsistent in your response
  16. Blaming or guilt-tripping

Now, here are some effective strategies that can help your toddler navigate their emotions and learn healthy ways of coping.

How to help your toddler navigate their emotions

Stay calm and patient

When your toddler is in the midst of a meltdown, it’s essential to maintain your own composure. Take five deep breaths. Your calm presence can help your child feel more secure and reduce the intensity of the situation.

Be their safe space

Your child needs to feel that they can safely and freely express their emotions without feeling overwhelmed or invalidated. This will most likely mean you dropping what you’re doing and sitting on the floor beside them.

Offer physical comfort

Physical touch, such as gentle hugs or holding your child, can provide comfort and help them regulate their emotions. If you offer it and they refuse it or push you away, don’t take it personally. Tell them you’re there for them when they’re ready for a hug.

Validate their feelings

Acknowledge your toddler’s emotions by using empathetic language. Phrases like ‘I see that you’re feeling upset’, or ‘It’s okay to be sad’ let them know their feelings are understood.

Redirect with positive options

Redirecting your child’s attention to a different activity or offering a positive alternative can help them shift their focus away from the trigger of the meltdown. This strategy should be used the least as it disregards their feelings (imagine if you went to your partner crying, and they told you to come and look at the bird outside).

Use simple language

Keep your communication simple and clear. Use short sentences of comfort and a calm tone to help your toddler. They are no longer using the thinking part of their brain; they are purely in their emotional brain during a meltdown. They most likely won’t hear you or make sense of what you’re saying.

Stay Empathetic

Remember that meltdowns are a natural part of a toddler’s emotional development. Show empathy and understanding throughout the process.

To help prevent emotional outbursts, here are some tips:

  • Maintain routine and predictability

Toddlers thrive on routine and predictability. When possible, stick to regular daily rhythms, as unexpected changes can contribute to meltdowns.

  • Utilise visual aids

Toddlers are concrete thinkers. Visual cues, such as picture cards or a simple visual chart that shows their day or week ahead, can help your toddler understand what’s happening next and reduce anxiety.

  • Help them label their emotions

Toddlers are still developing their verbal skills, so be patient as they try to express themselves. Encourage them to use words, gestures, or even drawings to communicate their needs.

  • Validate their need for independence

Toddlers are often seeking independence. Whenever possible, let them exert control over simple tasks, such as choosing their clothes or feeding themselves.

  • Avoid overstimulation

If your toddler is overwhelmed by sensory input, provide a calm and quiet environment to help them regain control.

  • Connection holds the key

An overwhelmed toddler experiencing big feelings is trying to express something. Look beyond the behaviour, and perhaps if it seems like they’re attention seeking, it’s actually connection with you or another loving caregiver they’re craving. When in doubt, carve out time to spend one-on-one with them, inviting them to lead the play.


Supporting a toddler during a meltdown requires patience, empathy, and a deep understanding of their developmental needs. By staying calm, validating their feelings, and providing a safe and supportive environment, you can help your toddler navigate these emotional challenges. Keep in mind that each child is unique, so it’s important to tailor your approach to what works best for your little one. As you continue to provide a foundation of comfort and understanding, you’ll not only help them through these challenging moments but also contribute to their emotional growth and overall wellbeing.


X click to search