Toddler Tantrums: Why They Happen & What Should the Parents Do

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Toddlers are known for their strong-willed personalities and erratic behavior, especially when it comes to having tantrums. Tantrums can be overwhelming and frustrating for both parents and children alike. Understanding the reasons for tantrums and learning coping strategies can make a big difference in managing these challenging moments.

What are tantrums?

Tantrums are sudden outbursts of emotional and physical behavior that toddlers display when they are overwhelmed, frustrated, or unable to communicate effectively. They can range from
  • crying
  • screaming
  • hitting
  • kicking
  • throwing things and other forms of aggressive behavior.

Tantrums are a normal part of a toddler’s development, and it is how they express their emotions and learn to regulate them. The age when tantrums are most common is between 1 and 3 years old, as this is a period of significant growth and development in a child’s brain and social-emotional skills. During this time, toddlers are learning how to assert their independence and are developing their own unique personalities, which can sometimes result in frustration and outbursts.

Reasons for toddlers tantrums

The reason for tantrums is often connected to a toddler’s growth and development. Toddlers are at a stage in their lives where they are beginning to assert their independence and autonomy. They want to prove that they are separate individuals and that they have their own will and desires. This desire for independence can sometimes clash with their parents’ expectations and rules, leading to tantrums.

Another reason for tantrums is that toddlers may not have the language skills necessary to express their thoughts and feelings verbally. For example, if they can’t reach a toy or open a jar, they may become frustrated and throw a tantrum. This can be frustrating for them, leading to outbursts of emotion. Parents can help reduce the frequency of tantrums by working on building their child’s language skills and helping them to express themselves in other ways.

The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for impulse control, emotional regulation, and decision-making, is still developing in toddlers. This means that they may have difficulty regulating their emotions and controlling their behavior. Tantrums are a common manifestation of this lack of impulse control and emotional regulation.

Hunger or thirst: Toddlers can become irritable and cranky if they are hungry or thirsty, which can lead to a tantrum. It is important to ensure that toddlers are fed and hydrated to prevent this trigger.

Overtiredness: Toddlers who are overtired can become easily upset and emotional, leading to a tantrum. It is important for parents to ensure that their child is getting enough sleep and rest.

Overstimulation: Toddlers can become overwhelmed and overstimulated in busy or noisy environments, leading to a meltdown. It is important to provide opportunities for quiet and calm time, especially when there is a lot of stimulation.

Transitioning: Toddlers can struggle with transitions from one activity to another or one place to another. For example, leaving a fun playground or going from playing to eating can trigger a tantrum. Parents can help ease transitions by providing warnings before they occur and offering reassurance.

Testing boundaries: Toddlers are curious and exploring their environment, which includes testing boundaries. They may throw a tantrum when told “no” or when they are unable to do something they want to do. It is important for parents to remain consistent in their boundaries and discipline.

Feeling overwhelmed: Toddlers can become overwhelmed with their emotions and feelings, leading to a tantrum. They may not have the verbal skills to express what they are feeling, which can lead to frustration and a meltdown. In these situations, parents can try to validate their child’s emotions and offer comfort.

What should the parents do during a tantrum?

It is important for parents to remain calm during a tantrum and not escalate the situation. Here are some things parents should avoid doing during a tantrum:

Don’t give in to their demands

While it may be tempting to give in to a screaming child to make the tantrum stop, it’s important to set boundaries and not reward negative behavior. Giving in can reinforce the idea that tantrums are an effective way to get what they want.

Don’t use physical punishment

Using physical punishment to stop a tantrum, such as spanking or hitting, can have negative long-term effects on a child’s development and can also be considered abusive. It’s important to find other ways to manage tantrums.

Try not to yell or lose control

Reacting with anger or losing control can escalate the situation and make it harder to calm the child down. It’s important for parents to stay calm and in control to help the child feel secure.

Don’t bribe or negotiate with the chid

Offering a reward or negotiating with a child during a tantrum can reinforce the behavior and encourage future outbursts.

Don’t compare your child to others

Comparing your child to others, even in a well-meaning way, can make them feel inadequate and increase their frustration. It’s important to celebrate your child’s unique qualities and support them through their challenges.

Don’t label your child

Calling your child names or labeling them as “difficult” or “bad” can have long-lasting negative effects on their self-esteem and behavior. It’s important to focus on positive reinforcement and avoid negative labeling.

Don’t overreact

While tantrums can be frustrating and exhausting for parents, it’s important not to overreact and make the situation worse. Taking a few deep breaths and staying calm can help both the parent and the child work through the tantrum more effectively.

What to do during a tantrum

Here are some strategies that can help parents manage a tantrum:

Remain calm

It is important for parents to remain calm during a tantrum. This can help the child feel more secure and reduce the intensity of the tantrum. We know remaining calm during a tantrum can be difficult, but it is crucial for parents to keep their emotions in check in order to help their child through the episode. When a child is having a tantrum, they are experiencing intense emotions and may feel overwhelmed, scared, or frustrated. If a parent becomes angry or upset themselves, this can make the child feel even more out of control and escalate the situation.

Parents can remain calm by taking deep breaths, reminding themselves that the tantrum is a normal part of development, and focusing on their child’s safety and well-being. It can also be helpful to step back and give the child space to express their emotions while keeping a watchful eye to ensure their safety. By remaining calm and composed, parents can model emotional regulation for their child and provide a sense of stability and safety during a challenging time.

Validate child’s feelings

It is important for parents to acknowledge and validate their child’s feelings. When a toddler feels heard and understood, they are more likely to calm down and feel better. By saying things like “I understand you’re upset” or “It’s okay to feel frustrated,” parents can show their child that their feelings are important and valid.

Offer comfort

Toddlers often feel overwhelmed during a tantrum, and offering comfort can help them feel more secure and safe. A simple gesture like holding their hand or giving them a hug can go a long way in helping a child feel better. This can also help them feel more connected to their parent, which can help reduce the frequency of tantrums.

Offer choices

When a child is in the midst of a tantrum, they may feel like they have no control over the situation. By offering choices, parents can help their child feel like they have some control over what is happening. This can help reduce the intensity of the tantrum and make the child feel more empowered.


Sometimes, simply changing the child’s focus can be enough to stop a tantrum in its tracks. Offering a toy or snack, or starting a new activity can help shift the child’s attention away from the trigger of the tantrum. This can help them calm down and regain control of their emotions.

Use positive reinforcement

Praising positive behavior can help reinforce good behavior and reduce the likelihood of future tantrums. When a child is able to calm down and behave appropriately, parents should offer praise and encouragement. This can help the child feel proud of their behavior and encourage them to continue to behave well in the future.

Offer a safe and supportive environment for the child to express their emotions

You can leave the child alone for a while and let them calm down, but this should always happen in a safe environment. Once the tantrum has subsided, it can be helpful to have a conversation with the child to help them understand their emotions and find more positive ways to express themselves in the future.

As parents, it’s important to remember that tantrums are a normal part of toddler development. They can be frustrating and exhausting, but with patience, understanding, and a little creativity, we can help our little ones navigate these big emotions. By understanding the reasons behind tantrums and responding in a positive and supportive way, we can help our toddlers develop the emotional regulation and coping skills they need to navigate the world around them.

So next time your toddler throws a tantrum, take a deep breath, remind yourself that this too shall pass, and know that you have the tools to help your child through it. Together, you’ll come out stronger on the other side.

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