What are tantrums?
Tantrums are a physical outburst of frustration, anger or overwhelming feelings experienced by your toddler when things aren’t going the way they would like them to. This strong desire to get things right isn’t all bad, it can also give them the motivation to achieve new physical milestones such as crawling. Their frustration helps to propel them forward to achieve new things.
Common tantrum behaviours include:
- Stamping their feet
- Screaming and yelling
- Throwing themself to the floor
- Head banging on the floor or a wall
- Holding their breath until they pass out (now there’s a fun one…not)
- Deliberately not eating
- Holding on to poo
Why do tantrums occur?
Whilst tantrums may feel really frustrating for parents, they’re actually a normal behaviour in your toddler’s development. A tantrum indicates that your toddler is gaining a healthy sense of identity and independence.
Your toddler may have a tantrum because they’re trying to tell you something that they can’t quite express in words. Sometimes your toddler’s mental and motor skills have progressed more quickly than their ability to communicate (verbal communications skills). They may be feeling scared, overwhelmed or frustrated but haven’t developed the skills yet to say, “I’m feeling frustrated”. Toddlers may get frustrated when they either don’t get their way, or they are trying to do something they can’t achieve. For example, your toddler may be trying to climb higher than what they can.
If your toddler is hungry, tired or over-stimulated, this may make it even more difficult for your toddler to stay calm and manage their feelings.
Regardless of the cause of the tantrum, it’s important to help your toddler understand and learn what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. Your toddler has boundless energy and keeps challenging whoever is around until they get the result they want. If they never get it, they will stop trying and eventually move onto something else – they have learnt the boundary. If you give in, your toddler may keep going until you break again, so choose your ‘cave-ins’ carefully.
Some tips on managing toddler tantrums
Your response to a tantrum is how your toddler learns about controlling emotions and making acceptable choices. Eventually, they will learn self-control and constructive willpower. By managing tantrum behaviour in a positive way, and supporting your toddler through their big feelings, you will help your toddler learn to self-regulate.
- Set clear boundaries and stick to them
- Praise your toddler when they behave well, and where possible ignore it when they don’t
- Offer simple choices such as letting them choose between the red and the yellow t-shirt
- Avoid saying “no” too often and try to rephrase your sentence positively instead to something like “why don’t we try this instead?”
- Give them easy and age-appropriate tasks they can do themselves like tidying their toys away
- Keep shopping trips short to avoid boredom and public meltdowns
- Try to distract your toddler when you can see they’re heading towards a meltdown. Silly faces, or a funny noise work well!
- Stick to a daily routine where possible, toddlers thrive with some structure and consistency
- Don’t give in to tantrums, if you do your toddler will work out in no time that they just need to get worked up in order to get what they want
- Cuddles can sometimes be just what they need. Tantrums are a healthy sign of development, and they won’t last forever
For more tips on how to handle toddler tantrums check out this article.
If your toddler has major tantrums several times a day or often has very long uncontrollable tantrums, seek professional advice, as there may be an explanation you hadn’t considered.