Toddler Emotions: Hey, I Don’t Like That!

In the video, I encourage 41-month old Sam to use his words to tell his big sister, Stella, that he doesn’t like it when she pushes him. This skill for using his words, rather than his behavior (e.g., by pushing back, screaming at her, etc.), to express what he doesn’t like is a crucial school readiness skill. He will need to tell others, especially any potential bullies, that he doesn’t like to be mistreated in a firm but polite manner. Practicing this skill with family members and peers/friends on play dates or at the park will be invaluable for avoiding physical tussles, hurt feelings and more once he enters a formal school setting.

The fact that Sam is mostly unintelligible when I ask what happened and what he said to Stella is not surprising. It is difficult for toddlers to express what upsets them as well as to tell someone they are not happy with the way they are being treated. They are just beginning to develop skills for putting thoughts and feelings into words. They are just learning their place in the world, and are often under the impression that older/bigger children or grown-ups simply have more power than them. That feeling of being powerless or overpowered can be self-managed more easily once they have words as their weapons to “fight back” when someone does something they don’t like or that doesn’t feel good/right.

Here are my Top 5 phrases to teach 0-3 year old children to use when someone does something to them they don’t like:

1) I don’t like when you _______ (name offensive action, such as kick, hit, etc.).
2) That hurts my feelings when you _______ (name offensive action, such as kick, hit, etc.).
3) I don’t like that.
4) That makes me sad when you ________ (name offensive action, such as kick, hit, etc.).
5) Stop ________ (name offensive action, such as kick, hit, etc.) me because I don’t like it.


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