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Little People, Big Emotions

There I was, that mom with a screaming toddler on the floor of Chipotle. My blood pressure began to rise, I started to feel my facial pores open up, and could feel my oversupply of milk leaking. There I was, with two small humans and no spouse. There I was, feeling like a failure of my child’s big emotions.

Being a parent to a toddler is full of amazing firsts, a lot of joy, and a heart filled with love. It can also bring about challenging times. On top of those challenging times, let’s add in a new baby to the mix and a deployed parent. As the solo parent, you start to see these big emotions come through in your child—you want to help, but don’t know how. That night at Chipotle, I knew something had to change or it was going to be a long deployment.

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For the last month, I’ve been practicing the following strategies, and so far, they’ve helped improve our big emotions:

1. Praise, praise, and more praise.

When my son does something wrong, I provide him with information on why that something was the wrong decision. I do the same when he makes good decisions. Verbal affirmation is a form of intrinsic motivation—it makes your child feel good about what they’re doing. This brings about a positive feeling that they’ll want to feel again. I truly believe you can never give your child too much praise. I love using the word brave. “Son, you’re so brave when you check on your sister in her crib. Daddy would be so proud.” Connect the praise to a specific example or action and add in how proud your spouse would be. This also lets your child know their other parent feels the same way.

2. Allow your child to talk about their emotions.

I ask probing question to get answers. “Son, why did you throw the toy?” “Do you feel sad?” “Do you miss Daddy?” Expressive language is only just emerging in toddlers; however, receptive language in typically developing children is more advanced at this stage of their life. Providing them with a probe allows them to answer and provide you with more information. A child understands more than they have the ability to express. As their language skills develop, they’ll start to express when they miss their parent or when they feel angry. The other day, my son said to me, “Mommy, I miss Daddy. I feel sad.” I took this opportunity to explain how it’s okay to feel sad, that Mommy missed Daddy too, and how proud I was of him for telling me that. I also made sure to tell him that his dad also loved and missed him.

3. Set aside one-on-one time.

This is hard, but your child will appreciate it. I have a newborn daughter, so things can get a little chaotic. Before bed, I make a point to have mom and son time. We read a few books, play with a few monster trucks, then kiss sissy goodnight. My daughter usually takes a cat nap around his bedtime, so it works out well. However, if she didn’t, I’d place her in her pack and play. Or, if my child was older, I’d alternate who went to bed first, then each night, each child is getting one-on-one time.

Given two choices, this was the outfit we ended up with.

4. Offer two choices

I always let my son have two choices. This allows him to feel as though he has control over the situation. It builds his confidence and gives him a sense of pride. “I picked out my own clothes.” This decreases the power struggle of getting dressed or other tasks.

5. Ask for help.

I asked the people around me to shower my son with extra love. To get him more kisses, more hugs, and more verbal affirmations. We don’t need to struggle alone. It’s okay to be open and honest with people.


Remember that our little people have big emotions, and it’s up to us to help them understand and manage them. Need more parent support? Check out other spouses’ experiences with parenting solo in 4 Ways to Make Solo Parenting Easier and Tackling My To-Do List While Solo Parenting.


1 Comment

  1. Margo

    Justine, I am so proud of you ! I love your article and it says volumes about how you are coping. I think you have great intuition and are a wonderful Mother. I know you have two very well adjusted and happy children. I am always here for you, no matter what.
    Love all of you,


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