Learning to Count and Learning to Cope
Anyone who has a toddler knows, they love learning new things. Just as much as learning new things, they like to show Mom and Dad (sometimes over and over again) that they can do those things once they've learned them.
One thing in particular is counting. Children learn to count at a very young age, usually starting to count to some extent as early as 15 months. Once they do they use it in everyday play and observation. Encouraging counting, and even simple addition and subtraction as they get older will help aid in educational play, make it fun, and later even help them cope with their frustrations.
By the time your young one reaches 3-4 years, you'll see that counting things is a regular practice (given they're going to school and you've been encouraging it at home). Counting things like 3 more pieces of broccoli left before he gets a cookie, 15 HotWheels cars lined up, or 4 people sitting at the dinner table. Encouraging these small observations will help introduce them to the numerical world we live in, and later counting by 2's and 10's.
If a regular practice, you'll start to see your child count to ten, twenty, etc. just out of the blue for no reason (some kids are show-offs). As a parent, your normal response is to positively reinforce the effort, which in turn makes them want to do it more. If promoted and encouraged enough, you can get them to do it almost anytime, even in the middle of a meltdown. We'll get to that in a second. This is where we use counting in other areas, such as overcoming frustrations.
Try this the next time your child has a meltdown. Get on their level, make eye contact, and ask "Can you show me how to count to ten?" (If they know how, they'll want to show you) Then, as they start (You might need to start with 1,2 and 3), help them take deep breaths to calm down. "Deep breaths, …… 4, 5, 6, 7 ….." "Now tell me what's wrong."
No parent wants to stand by while their child lies face down crying on the floor because you wouldn't let them wear their flip flops to school in the 2' of snow we got the night before (just using my child's last meltdown as an example). Yes, sometimes you just have to let the tantrum run its course, but this is just one way of helping them work through their emotions. Getting to the point of relaxing, refocusing, talking it out, and coming to an agreement among parent and child is always healthy.
Another note. As adults, we've all heard of slowly counting to ten and taking deep breaths in the face of a stressful situation (needed more on some days than others, but a great exercise nonetheless). But if we as parents & professionals can use it to calm down and focus, why not your toddler also? Children want to do what we do, so next time you get a little overwhelmed with your motherly/fatherly duties, don't hesitate to take some time and do this for yourself aswell.