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Easy Pumpkin Recipe for Toddlers

Easy Pumpkin Recipe for Toddlers

Pumpkin Yogurt Parfait Ingredients Directions Pumpkin: Nutrition & Benefits This week’s recipe is inspired by my toddler’s love for pumpkin pie! On more than one occasion, he has woken up in the middle of the night screaming, “pumpkin pie!”. He just loves it so much. 

Raising Global Citizens for a Better Tomorrow

Raising Global Citizens for a Better Tomorrow

Table of Contents Reflecting on the Russia-Ukraine War in 2022 What is a Global Citizen? How to Raise Our Children as Global Citizens Staying Informed Fostering Multicultural Awareness Encouraging Collaboration Encouraging Gratitude and Empathy I was going to write this week’s post on pumpkin muffins for 

Easy DIY Cardboard Toddler Toys for Creative Play

Easy DIY Cardboard Toddler Toys for Creative Play

Sometimes the most fun toys are the ones made from the contents of a recycling bin! Three of my toddler’s favorite play activities involve homemade toys made out of scrap cardboard;

1. Toy Car Ramps and Jumps
2. Ball Hoops
3. Forts

And aside from costing nothing, cardboard toys have many other important benefits! When it comes to early childhood development, both building homemade toys and figuring out versatile ways to play with them can help toddlers develop many important skills;

  • Creative thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Self-confidence
  • Gross and fine motor skills
  • Sequencing skills (planning and step-by-step actions)

1. Ramps, Jumps, and Parking Lots or Garages Made From Cardboard Boxes

DIY ramps, jumps and parking garages made from recycled cardboard boxes have been such a big hit with my toddler! He returns to play with these toys again and again. And they are so easy to make. 

For example, a ramp can be as simple as breaking off the side of a big cardboard box and leaning it against your coffee table. Zero craft supplies needed. Unless you want to let your toddler decorate the cardboard, in which case you can pull out some markers and let them go wild!

simple cardboard ramp with toddler drawing all over it

diy cardboard ramp and jump for toy cars

You can also use cardboard tubes and attach them to jumps or halfpipes made from cardboard boxes.

To make a jump/halfpipe, take an empty box, remove the top flaps, and from one of the sides cut out a shallow c shape. Then take the shape that was cut out to trace the same shape on the opposite side that was just cut so that you have a symmetrically cut box. Next cut out that second side. Use an extra stiff and thick piece of paper to become the curved halfpipe shape. Attach a mailing cardboard tube to the edge of the jump and lean the top of the tube against the wall.

Then you can show your toddler how you can drop cars or balls into the tube and watch them come out the other end and fly off the jump. This is my toddler’s favorite toy for the past month! 

Things to Slide Down Ramps

  • Toy race car
  • Balls (golf ball, wooden ball, squish ball, plastic ball, cloth ball)
  • Blocks
  • Pom poms
  • Water bottles (full and empty ones)

Benefits of Toy Ramp Play

  • Learning about gravity

    Offer your toddler objects of different weights, shapes and sizes to let them explore the concept of gravity.

  • Learning about momentum and distance

    Show your toddler how different angles of a ramp affect an object’s speed and travel distance. You can also set a bowl out in front of a ramp/jump so your toddler can try and get a car or ball to land in the bowl. My toddler also likes to stack blocks in front of the jump to try and knock them all down with a flying car. 

  • Pure fun. This ramp/jump has provided hours and hours of fun and creative learning for my toddler!

We have also recently built a parking garage for all of my toddlers Hot Wheels cars. I found an old shoe box and cut up some pasta boxes to tape inside it. He puts his cars in here every night before bed. You could also use toilet paper rolls in place of cut-up pasta boxes to house little cars or other precious little toys. 

diy hot wheels parking garage made out of a cardboard box and pasta boxes

2. Ball Hoops Made From Scrap Cardboard

Making a cardboard “basketball hoop” is a simple and effective way to get energetic toddlers running, jumping, and twisting!

And all you need is a strip of scrap cardboard and some painter’s tape. And of course, some toy balls to throw! I wrap the edges of the strip of cardboard I’m using for the hoop with painter’s tape to prevent any paper cuts during play. Other than that, we just stick the hoop to the wall with a piece of painter’s tape and my toddler has so much fun playing his own version of basketball. 

diy cardboard basketball hoop for toddler

Benefits of DIY Ball Hoops

  • Hand eye coordination skills
  • Depth perception skills
  • Fine and gross motor skills.
    – Jumping, running, twisting and grasping.
  • Cooperative play
    – Taking turns and sharing
  • Burning lots of wild toddler energy!

3. Constructing Forts, Tunnels and Pirate Ships with Large Cardboard Boxes 

I have such fond childhood memories of building forts as a child. There’s something about making special little spaces that is just magical!

My toddler likes to use furniture and blankets for his forts, but when we don’t have enough furniture around, empty cardboard boxes make some great fort walls! 

And a big cardboard box can also become a fort or tunnel in and of itself. You can cut out windows or connect big cardboard boxes to make tunnels or even a pirate ship! 

indoor toddler play fort with blankets and cardboard boxes

Benefits of DIY Fort Play

  • Encourages imaginative pretend play
  • Develops sequencing skills (planning and step-by-step building skills)

Creative Development in Early Childhood with DIY Toddler Toys

These toys encourage open-ended play and creativity. The Tot defines open-ended play as, “…any type of play that doesn’t have set rules, limitations or defined outcome.” This kind of play allows kids to exercise their imaginations and engage in self-led exploration.

Problem-Solving Skills

Figuring out how to assemble these toys and ways to play with them requires some problem-solving skills. For example, when a piece of tape folds in on itself as little ones apply it to a piece of cardboard, they figure out how to keep it flat the next time. Or when they can’t get a rubbery object to slide down their ramp, they figure out what kind of object will slide down. 

Confidence

Transforming empty cardboard boxes into fun toys gives our little ones a sense of creative power. They have the experience of creating their own toys by making something out of nothing. And then they figure out all sorts of ways to use their toys. This all contributes to their developing self-esteem and self-confidence.

Flexibile Thinking

Versatile toys allow toddlers to explore the multi-functionality of an object. There is not just one way to play with these cardboard toys. The possibilities are endless! These kinds of versatile toys encourage flexible thinking and are also great to Encourage Independent Play.

For example, toddlers can practice throwing balls into a DIY ball hoop from many different distances and positions. They can run right up to the hoop and jump to drop a ball in, or they can throw it from a few feet back. They can even stand underneath the hoop and toss the ball straight up and out, or experiment with different-sized or weighted balls. Additionally, you can intermittently adjust the height of the hoop to give them new challenges. 

Fine and Gross Motor Skills

While cutting cardboard is best left to the adults, toddlers can exercise their motor skills by helping you gather cardboard boxes, handing you tools, and applying tape. They can also go wild with decorating the cardboard with paint, markers, pom poms, pipe cleaners, and any other craft materials you have!

Sequencing

As you build these DIY toys with your toddler, you introduce them to the concept of sequencing. That is, doing things in a progressive order, step-by-step. Learning Without Tears explains that sequencing is a foundational skill that helps young children “learn to recognize patterns that make their world more understandable and predictable”. Without basic sequencing skills, we would not be able to follow instructions or complete routine tasks.  

For another DIY toddler activity to build fine motor skills and sequencing, you can check out this post on DIY Playdough.

DIY Cardboard Toddler Toys Wrap-Up

In addition to helping build important creativity skills and providing hours of fun, DIY toddler toys can simply be put back in the recycle bin at the end of the day.

And you can always make more. When there are so many toys that end up in the landfill, I feel good about doing my part to minimize our footprint. And making these toys is a great way to teach young kids about resourcefulness and environmental consciousness. Plus, they have so much fun with them!

I hope these simple DIY toddler toys provide you with some helpful ideas and inspiration. Say hi in the comments and let me know about your toddler’s favorite carboard toys!

Do 2 Year Olds Need Naps?

Do 2 Year Olds Need Naps?

Around the time my toddler turned 2 years old, his nap schedule went a little haywire. Just before turning 2, he had a nap regression that lasted a couple of weeks. And now at 25 months old, he is again having trouble settling down for 

Intergenerational Family Patterns and How We Parent

Intergenerational Family Patterns and How We Parent

Intergenerational family patterns are made up of behaviors, beliefs and family dynamics that are passed down from generation to generation. These patterns become deeply entrenched within family systems. And in the case of unhealthy patterns, this is problematic because they can be difficult to break. 

35 Iron-Rich Foods for Growing Babies and Toddlers

35 Iron-Rich Foods for Growing Babies and Toddlers

When I started noticing that all of the baby cereals sold in stores had “iron-fortified” written all over them, I started to wonder what was so important about iron. And whether or not my child was getting enough.

And especially since my son was exclusively breastfed (breast milk is low in iron vs iron-fortified formula), I wanted to make sure he was getting some high iron solid foods into his diet as he got older. 

Up until 6 months of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics explains that full-term breastfed babies get enough iron from breastmilk. Most full-term babies also have enough iron stores accumulated during the last trimester in utero to draw from for that first 6 months of life.

After 6 months of age though, iron needs increase. And without enough iron, babies are at risk for iron deficiency anemia. Fortunately, most babies are screened for anemia through blood tests to check for hemoglobin levels indicating low iron at their 9 month pediatric well check appointment.

Iron and Healthy Child Development

As it turns out, iron is an essential nutrient for healthy child development. According to the CDC, sufficient iron intake is important specifically for children’s brain development and hemoglobin production (hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells and delivers oxygen throughout the body). 

How Much Iron Do Babies and Toddlers Need?

The Mayo Clinic states that babies 7-12 months of age need 11 mg of iron daily, and toddlers 1-3 years old need 7 mg of iron daily. And then that number shoots up again as they get older. 

So what are some good sources of iron for young children? And what exactly does 11 or 7 mg of iron look like on a dinner plate or in a snack cup? Let’s find out!

Please note that I am not a nutritionist or medical professional and that I encourage you to speak with your pediatrician regarding your child’s individual nutritional needs. Additionally, some of the foods listed below are common allergens, so please be aware of any food sensitives or allergies your child may have.

35 Iron Rich Foods for Babies and Toddlers

While this is not an exhaustive list of high iron foods, here are some of my kids’ favorites. 

In the tables below this list you can find iron content/serving size as well as meal and snack ideas!

Please note that some of these foods are choking hazards for babies and young children unless cut, cooked/steamed and mashed or pureed as needed.

  • Meat, Fish, Poultry & Eggs
    Ground Beef
    Canned Tuna
    Ground Turkey
    Salmon
    Chicken Breast
    Eggs
  • Vegetables
    Spinach
    Sweet Potatoes
    Green Peas
    Kale
    Brocolli
  • Fruits
    Dried Apricots
    Figs
    Raisins
    Dates
    Prunes
    100% Pumpkin Puree
  • Grains
    Iron-Fortified Cereal
    Iron-Fortified Bread
    Oats
    Quinoa
    Iron-Enriched Pancake and Waffle Mixes
    Chia Seeds
  • Legumes
    Lentils
    Red Beans
    Navy Beans
    Tofu
    Black Beans
    Garbanzo Beans
  • Nuts
    Cashew Butter
    Almond Butter
    Peanut Butter
  • Packaged Snacks
    Puffs
    Granola Bars
    Cheerios

Iron Rich Meat, Fish, Poultry & Eggs

Meats and seafoods are among the best sources of iron, because animal products have “heme iron”. This is compared to “non-heme iron”, which is the form of iron found in plant based foods. So unlike iron from plants (“nonheme iron”), heme iron is more readily absorbed by the body (CDC)

Iron Rich Animal ProductsServing SizeIron (mg)Informational Source
Egg1 egg.9 mg ironNutrition Value
Cooked Ground Beef1 oz.7 mg ironNutrition Value
Light Canned Tuna in Water (drained)1 oz.5 mg ironNutrition Value
Ground Turkey (93% lean, 7% fat)1 oz.3 mg ironNutrition Value
Wild Atlantic Salmon1 oz.3 mg ironNutrition Value
Farmed Atlantic Salmon1 oz.1 mg ironNutrition Value
Cooked Chicken Breast (boneless, skinless)1 oz.1 mg ironNutrition Value
1 oz serving of fish in a small dish
1 oz of wild atlantic salmon (.3 mg iron)
While Everyday Health states that red meat, organ meats and seafoods like lamb, liver, and clams are particularly good sources of iron, we aren’t exactly eating plate fulls of liver and clams in our house.
 
So to get some iron from animal sources in for my kids, we opt for thinly sliced pieces of chicken (dipped in ketchup of course), salmon, ground beef, and ground turkey in soup or pasta sauce. He also loves canned tuna spread on top of wheat thins with some cream cheese.
 
Like meats, eggs are also a good source of heme iron and readily absorbed by the body. Plus, they’re easy to prepare as a scramble, omelet or hard boiled for little ones. 

Babies and toddlers can also easily get some egg into their diet through egg containing recipes like these Banana Veggie Pancakes.

Veggies with Iron

Iron Rich VegetablesServing SizeIron (mg)Informational Source
Spinach1/4 cup cooked spinach1.6 mg ironEat This Much
Sweet Potatoes1/4 cup mashed sweet potato.85 mg ironMy Food Data
Peas1/4 cup frozen peas.5 mg ironNutrition Value
Kale1/4 cup cooked kale.3 mg ironEat This Much
Broccoli1/4 cup cooked & chopped.25 mg ironMy Food Data
small bowl of 1/4 cup serving size of broccoli
1/4 cup cooked chopped broccoli (.25 mg iron)
handful of 1/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup frozen green peas (.5 mg iron)

As mentioned, iron found in meats is known as “heme iron” and is readily absorbed by the body. Iron found in veggies is “non heme iron” and is not quite as easily absorbed. In good news though, to help with iron absorption of plant-based iron, you can pair those veggies with foods high in vitamin C. The vitamin C helps the body absorb the non-heme iron.

The American Academy of Pediatrics lists the following fruits and vegetables as vitamin c-rich foods; pineapple, strawberries, cantaloupe, raspberries, kiwis, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, cauliflower, potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, leafy green vegetables, and vitamin c fortified juices. 

While my toddler would never pick up plain kale or spinach, he will eat them when they are finely chopped or blended into other foods. For example, my toddler will eat finely chopped kale in pasta or quesadillas. And he loves smoothies, so that’s another easy way to incorporate dark leafy greens into his diet.

Other veggies like broccoli, peas and sweet potatoes are easy to steam and puree, mash, or slice into wedges. It took my son a long time to eat plain steamed brocolli florets, but he would eat them when dipped or mashed in with applesauce. 

Engaging in some play with food can also be helpful for picky eaters. For example, my 2 year old loves to eat peas when he pretends they are balls that “boing” into his mouth. When my toddler was younger, we just made sure to squish the peas before serving to prevent choking.  

Iron Rich Fruits

Iron Rich FruitsServing SizeIron ContentInformational Source
Dried Apricots (unsweetened)1/4 cup dried1 mg ironNutrition Value
Figs1/4 cup dried.75 mg ironNutrition Value
Raisins3 tablespoons.56 mg ironNutrition Value
Dates1/4 cup dried.4 mg ironNutrition Value
Prunes1/4 cup dried.375 mg ironNutrition Value
100% Pumpkin Puree (canned, Good & Gather brand)1/4 cup1 mg ironNutrition Value
handful of 3 tablespoons of raisins3 tablespoons of raisins (.56 mg iron)

Aside from being a good source of iron, dried fruits like apricots, figs, raisins, dates and prunes are a sweet and tasty treat for toddlers. My toddler loves chopped up dried apricots, figs, raisins, dates and prunes mixed into finely chopped salads, oatmeal, cheerios, puffs or just plain on their own.

Please note that foods like raisins are choking hazards for babies and young toddlers, so prepare such foods accordingly by chopping into small pieces. 

High Iron Grains

Iron Rich GrainsServing SizeIron (mg)
Happy Baby Organics Oats & Quinoa Iron-Fortified Cereal3 tablespoons5 mg iron
Natural Grocers Whole Wheat Bread1 slice.5 mg iron
Quaker Rolled Oats1/4 cup.75 mg iron
O Organics Quick Cook Quinoa1/4 cup dry1 mg iron
Chosen Foods Organic Chia Seeds2 teaspoons.73 mg iron

small bowl of 1/4 cup serving size of dried oats cooked1/4 dried oats cooked (.6 mg iron)

box of kodiak flapjack & pancake mix and waffle
1/2 cup Kodiak mix makes 1 waffle (1.7 mg iron)
4 small banana chia seed pudding cups
Banana chia seed pudding cups (1 cup has 2 teaspoons of chia seeds = .73 mg iron)
bag of happy tot organic oats & quinoa baby cereal
3 tablespoons of Happy Baby oat & quinoa baby cereal has 5 mg iron


Grain based iron fortified foods are usually one of the easiest ways to get a boost of iron into kids. My son loves PB&J sandwiches, waffles, pancakes, quick cook quinoa mixed with applesauce, and cream of wheat. 

We also regularly make the following easy grain based iron rich recipes;

Now that my toddler is eating bigger portion sizes and a wider variety of iron-containing foods, he is mostly able to meet his daily iron needs without iron-fortified cereals.

And as a side note, as important as it is that kids are getting enough iron, it’s equally important that they’re not getting too much as explained by Healthline. This could happen if a child were taking an iron supplement as well as eating a lot of iron-fortified foods.

A Note on Iron-Fortified Infant Cereal Made from Rice
I avoid iron fortified rice cereal, because rice can contain high levels of arsenic. Jessica Huhn from Ready.Set.Food explains that this is because rice absorbs a lot of arsenic from pesticides and fertilizers. And Consumer Reports states that arsenic is a Group 1 carcinogen and can have harmful effects on developing brains.

Iron Rich Legumes

Iron Rich LegumesServing SizeIron (mg)Informational Source
Lentil Beans (canned, no salt added)1/4 cup1.3 mg ironWestbrae Organic Lentil Beans No Salt Added
Red Beans (canned, no salt added)1/4 cup1.1 mg ironWestbrae Organic Red Beans No Salt Added
Navy Beans (canned, no salt added)1/4 cup1.05 mg ironEden Organic Navy Beans No Salt Added
Tofu (firm)1/5 block (79 grams)1 mg ironO Organics Firm Tofu
Black Beans (canned, no salt added)1/4 cup.95 mg ironEden Organic Black Beans No Salt Added
Garbanzo Beans (canned, no salt added)1/4 cup.7 mg ironEden Organic Garbanzo Beans No Salt Added
small bowl of 1/5 block of tofu serving size
1/5 block of tofu (1 mg iron)

Tofu is an easy iron rich food to offer and comes in different textures ranging from silken tofu to extra firm tofu. You don’t have to cook it and you can simply mash it or slice it into thin strips for babies who have started on solids, or chop it into cubes for older kids. My toddler loves cubes of soft tofu with some jam spread on top. Tofu can also be blended up with smoothies!

Beans are a harder sell than tofu in my house, but I have had some success blending them up with yogurt and cheese and heating it all up to serve as a dip or quesadilla fixing. 

Creamy Nut Butters with Iron

Iron Rich Nut ButtersServing SizeIron (mg)Informational Source
Cashew Butter (unsalted)1 tablespoon.9 mg ironNutrition Value
Almond Butter1 tablespoon.6 mg ironNutrition Value
Peanut Butter (unsalted, creamy)1 tablespoons.55 mg ironNutrition Value
1 tablespoon of peanut butter on a knife
1 Tablespoon of Creamy Unsalted Peanut Butter

Creamy nut butters are easy to spread onto toast or crackers for a little nutritional boost. And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are of course a favorite with my 2 year old. Not to mention easy to pack for a picnic lunch or snack on the go. 

And I always buy the creamy variety of nut butters, as the crunchy kinds pose more of a choking hazard risk. Spreading nut butters relatively thin onto food items also helps prevent any choking hazard risks.  

Iron Rich Snacks

Packaged SnacksServing SizeIron (mg)
Happy Baby Organic Kale & Spinach Puffs1/4 cup.45 mg iron
Cheerios1/4 cup2.1 mg iron
Happy Tot Organic Apples & Spinach Soft-Baked Oat Bars1 bar1 mg iron
happy tot fiber & protein bar
Happy Tot organic apples & spinach bar with 1 mg of iron
kale and spinach puff in a toddler bowl
1/2 cup of Happy Baby kale & spinach puffs (.9 mg of iron)
toddler bowl of cheerios and chopped dried cranberries
1/2 cup of cheerios with dry chopped cranberries (4.2 mg iron)

Granola bars and puffs with ingredients like kale and spinach are easy on the go snacks with iron to have on hand. My son also loves to have a snack cup with cheerios and chopped up dried fruit.

Dried fruits like apricots, figs, and raisins are especially high in iron. Dried cranberries are a hit too, and these have an added benefit of being high in vitamin C. And vitamin C helps the body absorb non animal product forms of iron.

Good Sources of Iron for Babies & Toddlers at Mealtimes

Breakfast Foods High in Iron

There are so many great breakfast foods high in iron. Here are some ideas to get started;

  • Banana Veggie Pancakes made with iron fortified cereal
  • Pumpkin Yogurt Parfait
  • Scrambled eggs with toast and fruit
  • Pancakes or a waffle made from Kodiak Cakes buttermilk mix with a side of fruit
  • Oatmeal with raisins
  • French toast with whole wheat bread and fruit
  • Smoothie with banana, berries, a splash of orange juice, tofu, yogurt & spinach or kale

iron rich breakfast plate for toddlers with scrambled egg and oatmeal with raisins

Lunch Foods High in Iron

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread with side of peas and fruit
  • Tuna fish sandwich on whole wheat bread with side of sweet potato and fruit
  • Turkey or chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread with side of fruit and sweet potato
  • Cheese and bean quesadilla with bean dip, fruit and avocado on the side
  • Wheat thins with cream cheese and canned tuna spread on top

iron rich toddler lunch plate with cheese and bean quesadilla, bean dip, raspberries and avocado

Dinner Foods High in Iron

For a high iron dinner, my tot loves the following;
  • Pasta with ground turkey or chicken and minced cooked kale mixed in
  • Cheese quesadilla with bean dip and a side of high vitamin C fruit
  • Salmon or chicken with rice and broccoli
  • Quinoa bowl with finely diced chicken/tofu/fish, sweet potato/broccoli/peas, raisins and a little applesauce to sweeten it!

iron rich toddler dinner plate with salmon, rice with broccoli and chopped blueberries

Iron Rich Snack Ideas for Toddlers

  • Cheerios or Happy Baby Organic Kale & Spinach Puffs with chopped dried fruit mixed in (cranberries, apricots, figs, dates, or prunes)
  • Banana Chia Seed Pudding
  • Simple Homemade Granola Bars
  • Happy Tot Organic Apple & Spinach Soft-Baked Bar
  • Bean dip with tortilla chips
  • Diced steamed sweet potatoes with cinnamon
  • Peanut butter or almond butter spread on crackers or toast
  • Smoothies with tofu and leafy greens added in

I hope these food tables and ideas for iron rich meals and snacks for toddlers are helpful! What iron rich foods does your toddler like? Say hi in a comment below and let me know!

Easy Toddler Breakfast Banana Chia Seed Pudding

Easy Toddler Breakfast Banana Chia Seed Pudding

I love easy toddler breakfast recipes that are simple to prep and nutritious. And this banana chia seed pudding recipe is just that. Plus, I like to eat it too! There are a lot of chia seed pudding recipes out there, but I created this 

Minimalist Practices to Help Prevent Parent Burnout

Minimalist Practices to Help Prevent Parent Burnout

‘Parent exhaustion’ is the particular flavor of overwhelm and depletion that comes from meeting the demands of a small child day in and day out (and night in and night out). And when the exhaustion becomes chronic, it leads to parent burnout. WebMD aptly describes parent 

10 Tips to Help Parents Handle Toddler Temper Tantrums

10 Tips to Help Parents Handle Toddler Temper Tantrums

Parenting young children is a journey filled with love, laughter, and of course, temper tantrums. The toddler years through the preschool years are especially a wild ride. 

While no parent likes dealing with toddler tantrums, the good news is that there are ways to effectively navigate them and help kids develop healthy emotional regulation skills. Helping children learn these skills early in life will set them up for an emotionally rich and fulfilling life as they grow into adults.

Here are 10 tips to minimize the frequency and intensity of a child’s tantrums. 

1. Adjust Your Expectations

The first thing to acknowledge about toddler temper tantrums is that they are a normal part of child development (to an extent). Young children do not have fully developed brains, so they are not able to regulate their emotions and behaviors in the same way as adults. And let’s be honest, a lot of adults are not even able to regulate their emotions all that well.

To support this point, Child Development Clinic explains that the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that regulates emotions and impulses is still developing in kids and teenagers. Additionally, Zero to Three explains that this part of the brain is especially underdeveloped in toddlers under the age of 3. 

As such, we have to adjust our expectations. Temper tantrums and emotional outbursts are simply a part of having a young brain that is still in the process of developing. 

Additionally, young children have little life experience, so it is no surprise that they need some guidance when it comes to understanding emotions and new situations. Strong emotions can be overwhelming and even quite frightening for young children, and often they respond in the only way that they know how, which unfortunately is sometimes kicking and screaming. This is where parents and childcare providers come in and offer their guidance and support. 

2. Model Healthy Emotional Regulation Skills

Children are like sponges, absorbing huge amounts of information simply by listening and watching the people around them. 

If a child frequently witnesses parents losing their tempers, for example, that child learns that aggressive behavior and losing control is an appropriate way to handle big emotions. Alternatively, they may become fearful of strong emotions and do the opposite of what they see their parents doing. They may internalize and suppress their feelings because they think this is the best way to avoid big scary, and angry outbursts. Stuffing their feelings down like this can lead to a lot of emotional problems and even mood disorders. 

On the other hand, when a child grows up watching parents respond calmly in emotionally charged situations, they learn that this is an appropriate and healthy response. Keep in mind, that responding calmly does not mean that a person is ignoring what they are feeling. It means that they are still experiencing those feelings, but they guide those feelings and keep them from getting out of control by using effective coping strategies. 

So as parents, we need to take responsibility for how we are managing our own emotions and know that we are setting an example for better or worse. 

3. Wait for the Storm to Pass

During an intense tantrum, it often feels instinctual for parents to start yelling over their child’s screams and cries. As it turns out, this instinct is counterproductive and can escalate a tantrum.

If a child has reached a point where you can’t speak to them at a conversational volume and be heard, they are likely in a “fight or flight” state. This is a state where their bodies’ stress response system has been activated and is running the show.

In this state, kids cannot think clearly or listen to reason, and their physiological systems are telling them to kick and scream or run away. When they hear a parent yelling, this charges up their system even more and they may perceive that yelling as a threat. Even if you are only yelling so that they can hear you above their crying, their brain doesn’t understand this when it’s already in crisis mode. 

There is no reasoning with a child when they are in an escalated state. We simply must wait for the storm to pass. We let them know that we are here to talk when they are calm and then we provide a supportive presence and make sure they do not harm themselves during their tantrum.

In the case of a public tantrum like at the grocery store, you may want to physically move them to a more private space, as other people swarming around could be overstimulating and escalate a tantrum. Plus, no parent wants to stand in the middle of a grocery store with a screaming child and people staring at them as though they are the worst parent in the world. So gently but with strength, it is time to pick your child up, ditch your grocery shopping cart, and walk right out of that store.  

4. Help Children Put Words to Feelings

A toddler’s tantrums are often preceded by feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and/or disappointment. Additionally, further frustration can build when young children do not know how to communicate these feelings or understand why they are having them.

By helping our toddlers develop language skills and put words to their feelings, we can help prevent meltdowns. Dr. Dan Siegel coined the term, “name it to tame it”. The concept behind this phrase is that when we identify our feelings with words, we start to lessen the intensity of those feelings.

list of feeling words for toddlers emotional development

If a feeling can be contained in a word, it is not so big and wild that we are going to drown in it.

We feel our feelings, and we are in charge of them. 

5. Teach Emotional Regulation Skills Through Play

The best way to teach younger children new skills is often through play. Play is their natural language. Luckily, there are great kids’ games that encourage developing skills like impulse control and feelings identification.

Zero to Three recommends “red light, green light” and “freeze dance” as fun games to work on impulse control. Impulse control skills are important when it comes to managing emotional outbursts and behavior issues. Kids start at one end of a room or playground and run when you say “green light”, and stop when you say “red light”. 

Freeze dance is a particularly favorite game in our house. My toddler loves to play this to the “Party Freeze Dance Song” on YouTube. Your child wiggles, jumps and spins while the music is playing, and freezes as soon as it stops. 

Feeling flashcards can be a fun way to teach kids about identifying emotions. One side of a card shows an emotional facial expression, and they have to identify the emotion. Additionally you can role-play emotionally charged scenarios with kids or use toy figures to act out conflict resolution scenarios.

6. Establish Boundaries

While children are notorious for testing boundaries, when it comes down to it, boundaries help kids feel safe. At least reasonable and appropriate boundaries do. When a boundary is clearly communicated, a child knows what to expect. This predictability eases anxieties that can come with uncertainty.

When parents consistently uphold their boundaries and practice assertive parenting, kids also know their parents are in control and watching out for them. Boundaries create a basic framework for a child to reference as they chart unfamiliar territory. So if kids have a clear framework in their minds about what is expected of them, they are less likely to test limits and encounter tantrum triggers like power struggles.  

7. Breathing Exercises for Kids

Learning to take deep breaths is a simple and convenient way for young children, older children, and adults alike to deal with overwhelming emotions that lead to tantrums.

When we focus on controlled breathing, we activate our body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that is active when we are in a relaxed state.  

There are many different ways to teach kids deep breathing, but one of my favorites is to have kids imagine they are smelling a flower as they deeply inhale, and blowing bubbles out as they exhale. 

8. Use Distraction

When things are heating up and you see your 2-year-old child is having a hard time managing their emotions, try using distraction and redirection. This helps them refocus their attention and regain a sense of control.

Offering a fun game or going outside for a change of scenery are examples of helpful distractions. Another type of distraction that I have found to work surprisingly well, even during an intense tantrum, is stopping whatever I’m doing, making a big surprised face, and gasping as though I can’t believe what I have just seen. This catches my toddler’s attention and he wants to know what all the fuss is about. Once he quiets down, I launch into a story or tell him I thought I just saw something magical. 

9. Encourage Physical Activity

Toddlers need to move! They have so much energy and movement is a healthy way for them to express and release pent-up emotions. Dance parties, running at the playground, rolling down hills, and tumbling around on floors are great ways to get their ya-yas out. When they get the chance to express emotions through large gross motor movements, they may have fewer tantrums and less intense tantrums when faced with big emotions.

10. Emotional Learning Through Movie and Book Characters

Young children can learn about emotions through characters from tv shows, movies, and books. It is often easier for children to talk about difficult feelings a character is experiencing rather than difficult feelings they themselves are having. Imaginary friends are another way that small children tend to explore complex emotions. 

So we can discuss emotions, behaviors, conflicts, and resolutions that characters face as we read books and watch movies with our kids. Sitting cuddled up on the couch with a book and mom or dad is a very safe place for young kids to explore big feelings. 

Supporting Healthy Emotional Development

We cannot expect to completely eliminate a toddler’s temper tantrums, because the occasional tantrum is a normal part of childhood development. Rather, the key to reducing the intensity and frequency of temper tantrums is to teach our kids emotional regulation skills and show them that feelings are safe and manageable.

It can be difficult to remember what to do in the heat of the moment when your child is pushing your buttons and screaming bloody murder, but this is when we take a deep breath and remember that we are in charge as parents.

We cannot make our child stop feeling their feelings, but we can help guide them. We can teach them communication skills, provide supportive boundaries, and offer our unconditional love and presence. 

How to Create a Toddler Friendly Home

How to Create a Toddler Friendly Home

Toddler-friendly homes are curated to give toddlers access to furniture, tools and resources that support their growth and development. Creating a kid friendly home gives toddlers opportunities to do things for themselves. They learn that they are capable. And they become confident in their ability