Nothing is worse than the dreaded toddler tantrum. They always seem to come at the worst time and the most inopportune moments. No matter what your parenting style of philosophy is, you will one day deal with a toddler temper tantrum that occurs for the most ridiculous of reasons.

Tantrums can take many forms, including crying, yelling, pouting, flopping on the floor, and even hitting or biting. But why do they happen and – more importantly – what can parents do to help their toddler get through them?

My brother was the king of temper tantrums. There was one incident where he couldn’t escape through the front door because my mother locked it. He became so angry that he couldn’t go on the porch that he walked over to our glass cabinet and literally smashed his head through it. Thankfully, he was ok and had no scrapes, cuts, or bruises. It wasn’t his first tantrum and it wouldn’t be his last!

Why Do Tantrums Happen?

Children, especially toddlers are dealing with a lot of emotional and physical changes. They are not able to fully comprehend or speak what they are thinking and feeling, which leads to breakdowns. Just like adults, when they are tired or hungry, the problems are only compounded. 

According to Merriam Saunders, a licensed marriage and family therapist, “It is important to remember that toddlers are not yet capable of expressing their wants, needs, and emotions in a functional way. Frequently, a tantrum is simply an expression of an unmet need. It is the parent’s job to put on a detective cap and determine what the function of the tantrum is. Is my child’s tantrum a physical response to hunger, fatigue, overstimulation? Is it a manifestation of frustration for attention, to avoid a task, or because a preferred item was taken away?”

One thing to remember if your toddler is having a very public tantrum, is that your child isn’t trying to embarrass you. They simply don’t have the emotional regulation to control their outburst. The most important thing to remember is to keep your cool when they can’t. 

Different Kinds of Tantrums

There are many reasons why toddlers have tantrums. The most common are:

  1. Anger
  2. Frustration
  3. Fatigue
  4. Anxiety

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As one expert, Christina Furnival, a licensed professional clinical counselor, explains, “The range of toddler tantrums is vast. One child’s tantrum may look like another child’s pouting. Another child’s tantrum may look like they are trying to flee a natural disaster. Every child has their own temperament, and within that, they have their own types of tantrums. Often there is a type of tantrum for not getting what they want, one for getting something taken away, one for not wanting to eat a certain food, one for not wanting to go to bed. There are tantrums where the parent has no idea what triggered it. There are also the ‘help me help you’ tantrums where the child is so caught up in their own tornado that they are in essence communicating nothing, yet the parent is actively trying to figure out what is wrong with zero information.”

Oftentimes, we don’t know what really caused the tantrum until it’s over, which can be frustrating, but it can also be a learning experience.

What to Do During a Tantrum

The most important thing is to keep calm and make sure they are physically safe. Make sure there is nothing around them that can hurt them. Your goal is to make sure your child can calm down. 

Some parents find that ignoring a tantrum can be helpful, while other parents may want to try to help their child by suggesting some deep breathing or using distraction to break the tantrum cycle. What you don’t want to do during a tantrum is to invalidate your child’s feelings.

There is no way to prevent tantrums, but the one thing that might be useful is keep a consistent routine with your child. You can also give them choices throughout the day to make them feel more control of their own world. It’s also important to avoid triggers such as missed naps or hunger. 

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