Picture this: It's scorching outside. You buy your little one an ice cold lemonade. Being the conscientious mommy that you are, you portion out a little bit of the sugary beverage; some for now, and some for another time. A day later, your little girl runs to the refrigerator in anticipation of finishing off the cached portion, only to find the juice is missing. She is screaming and crying because the lemonade--HER lemonade-- is gone.
You understand the problem. She's hurt because someone --some indiscriminate adult--took her juice without her permission. And despite all comfort-- even a conciliatory CapriSun juice pouch -- nothing stops the huge meltdown from erupting.
She's a smart girl. She devoured the very same juice pouch with delight just the other day, so why won't she be reasonable? There are so many other things in this world deserving of a category 5 flood, but Sweetheart this ain't one of them. You want to delicately navigate these emotional waters, but you're pretty sure that any maneuver to gain compliance from an already hurt and agitated four-year-old will only worsen the impending tantrum. So, what do you do?
Validate her feelings. Acknowledge that her feeling stripped of control is legitimate. Look at the situation from her perspective: you feel stripped of control because she won't accept a reasonable substitute for the lemonade, but that doesn't mean her preference for lemonade is bad.
It sounds so simple in theory, but the reality is I have a hard time allowing my children to own their feelings. I don't like to see them upset, especially when I am the indiscriminate one in this case who siphoned the lemonade. To boot, I don't have the time or the patience to deal with an "irrational" hissy-fit. Still, validating her feelings makes her feel better, teaches her to identify her emotions, and helps her recognize her right to own them.