What to do when your toddler’s emotional backpack is full

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What to do when your toddler’s emotional backpack is full

“Mummy, I love you,” Euan’s chubby little two-year-old face radiated as he looked at me across the dinner table.

“I love you too.”

“Why?” Why the constant refrain of the inquisitive toddler.

“Because you are the best boy in the whole world ever. And the handsomest, and the funniest, and the silliest.” With each description, he threw back his head and giggled.

“Best friends?”

“Best friends little guy.” He gave me the biggest smile I’d seen in over a week.

When a kid’s emotional backpack needs emptying

This exchange had been prefaced by about 10 minutes of uncontrolled screaming. He refused to eat the pasta I’d cooked for dinner, saying he wanted pancakes instead, and then insisted I hold his hand. I was eating my own meal so told him I couldn’t do that because I needed my hand to eat.

This time last week he had gone down with a nasty cold. He was running a 38-degree fever and just wanted to sleep; he also had a nasty cough. He missed daycare on Tuesday and wasn’t interested in doing much all week. The cold was mostly gone by Wednesday but his genki, happy-self was missing.

At playgroup on Thursday, he wasn’t interested in playing much. And at his Mum and Toddler class on Friday, the sensei commented that he wasn’t himself. There were multiple meltdowns over all sorts of tiny things which is not the norm.

What happened to my happy boy?

I was starting to wonder where sweet, happy Euan had gone. Nothing was working to get him to cheer up, all my attempts to make him smile were met with resistance.

Even a trip to the park today, where he could run around and enjoy the sunshine and relatively warm weather, didn’t work. He enjoyed climbing and sliding and swinging but kept getting into altercations with slightly bigger boys intent on claiming the territory as their own.

What was bugging him? Who knows, the only way a two-year-old has to express his feelings is through whining, crying and generally being difficult. Maybe some adults are the same;-p.

It could have been that too much TV and indulgence from mummy while he was sick left him needing to re-test and establish boundaries. Perhaps too much sleep in the daytime was affecting nighttime sleep and he was just overtired. Maybe he was missing daddy who had been away on business.

Maybe it was a combination of those things or something else altogether. The kid clearly was carrying around a full emotional backpack and it was time to empty it out.

Laughter is the best medicine, but some ills require tears as well. {tweet}

And then to dinner time when he seemed to want to disrupt the normal flow of the meal and I just wanted to eat. I could’ve just given him my hand, but I knew from experience it would just lead to more unreasonable behaviour, so I held firm.

And since learning about listening techniques taught at Aha!Parenting and Hand in Hand that my son really needed was to release his pent up emotions. For whatever reason, his emotional backpack was full and needed emptying.

It was hard to not give him my hand, but I could also see his tears weren’t really about holding my hand at dinner time. When the big smile, and happy, but tired, Euan returned after he’d finally calmed down, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

If you’re interested in learning more about these techniques, please check out the following books:



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  • This is so interesting. I have never thought about it as an emotional backpack but it makes a lot of sense. I think I need to read more about this and try it with my children. Thank you for sharing with #STayClassyMama

    • Kamsin

      Thank you for commenting. The Calm Parents Happy Kids book especially totally changed the way I think about my kids tantrums and also about my role as a mum and the way I try to meet his needs. Definitely worth reading.

  • The idea of a full bag makes a lot of sense actually. I like things like that as when I can make sense of idea myself it helps me parent better, and we all need help with that when they are full on tantruming #TwinklyTuesday

    • Kamsin

      I absolutely agree that being able to make sense of things in a simple way helps a lot.
      Thanks for commenting.

  • Totally agree that sometimes we just need to give them some time to release their emotions and still just be there for them #dreamteam

    • Kamsin

      Absolutely. Thanks for commenting.

  • That’s such an interesting and powerful way of looking at things from your little man’s point of view. I also have a ‘twoodler’ and I can see that his emotional back pack also needs to be emptied now and then. It definitely helps to consider it this way rather than getting frustrated with them. Thanks for sharing with #DreamTeam x

    • Kamsin

      Thanks for commenting. It can be all too easy to get frustrated with a two year old being “difficult”! It helps me to remember he’s a emotional being just like me and for 2 year olds little things can be overwhelming.

  • I think sometimes we forget that these are just little people learning how to process everything in a big big world. Lovely post. Thanks for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

    • Kamsin

      So true. Sometimes we just expect them to bounce back from whatever and don’t allow the space for the processing they need. Thanks for commenting.