Why Toddlers Have Tantrums & How to Handle Them

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Why Toddlers Have Tantrums: Boy crying and reaching up

Why Do Toddlers Have Tantrums?

As frustrating as tantrums can be, they are a normal part of your little one’s development. They are most common in children aged 1-3 and might happen because your child is tired, hungry, or overstimulated. Your toddler might have a tantrum simply because she wants her PB&J cut into star shapes instead of hearts. I’m sure your burning question is, “Why do toddlers have tantrums?” or “How on earth am I supposed to handle this?” Well, I’m going to answer your questions in this article, so keep scrolling.

Toddlers are very small people with very big emotions. Their language skills are starting to develop, but they can’t talk well enough to convey what they want to say. They have so much to say, but parents can be infuriatingly slow on figuring out what they want. This makes toddlers all the more frustrated.

Your toddler is starting to feel independent and like she can handle anything, even though she really can’t. It frustrates her when adults try and control everything she does, like when and what she eats and wears or when she sleeps. And she probably thinks, “Why do grownups care so much when I leave my toys on the floor? It makes them so much easier to play with.”

What are the Most Common Triggers for Tantrums?

There are a wide variety of reasons why toddlers have tantrums, but here some of the most common causes:

  • Overstimulation – Toddlers are still very young, and quickly become overstimulated. Sometimes all your little one needs is quiet time, cuddles, or a book with Mommy.
  • Hunger – Let’s be honest here; everyone gets hangry, even adults.
  • Discomfort – Maybe her diaper needs a change, or her car seat strap is digging into her painfully. Check your toddler to see if there’s anything that’s bothering her.
  • Tiredness – Just like hunger, everyone gets grumpy when they’re overtired, and toddlers have less experience handling their feelings than we do.
  • Big emotions – I know I’ve mentioned this several times, but it takes practice to know how to respond to strong emotions. Your toddler is learning every day how to handle hers.
Why Toddlers Have Tantrums: Eggs with funny faces drawn on them
  • Inability to react to a situation – Your little one might have a tantrum because she doesn’t know how to respond to something. For example, if a kid takes her toy, or her ice cream falls on the ground. Crying might be all she can think of to do.
  • Frustration with communicating – Toddlers have many, many ideas and needs that they want us to know about, but they don’t have the vocabulary to let us know about them. It’s annoying when no one knows what you want!

How Do I Avoid My Toddler Having Tantrums?

  • Be consistent – Toddlers experiment to find out what we’ll do in response to their actions, and they’ll store away our response in their little minds. Keeping our responses consistent helps them learn what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
  • Praise good behavior – Our little ones need to know what they should do just as much as what they shouldn’t do. Anyways, it’s discouraging to only ever hear about when you do something wrong. Remember to tell your toddler good job when she listens to you and handles difficult situations appropriately.
  • Let your child make small decisions – Instead of telling your toddler, “Get dressed.” ask her, “Do you want to wear the pink shirt or the blue shirt today?” Toddlers love feeling like they get a say in the matter.
  • Encourage your toddler to use words – Ask your toddler what’s bothering her, and remind her to use her words. Don’t forget to actually listen to her; toddlers are humans too.
  • Learn what situations trigger your toddler and avoid them – If your child throws tantrums when she misses naps, try and schedule activities around her naptime. If she throws tantrums when shopping, plan to make your shopping trips shorter, or leave her with a family member while you venture to the store.
  • Distract your toddler – Toddlers are easy to distract, so use this to your advantage. Sometimes, nipping a tantrum in the bud can be as simple as “Look at that doggy!” or, “Let’s go outside!”
  • Pick your battles – Not every last detail is worth fighting with your toddler over, and being nitpicky makes it harder to be consistent. Choose a few things that really matter to stand your ground about with your toddler.

What Should I Do if My Toddler Has a Tantrum?

There are many reasons why toddlers have tantrums, and it’s impossible to always avoid them. Here’s how to handle tantrums when they arise.

Keep outwardly calm. If you get angry, it just escalates your toddler’s tantrum. However, keeping calm doesn’t mean you should give in to your toddler’s whims. Giving a toddler their way is the fastest way to stop their tantrum, but it’s also the best way to ensure they’ll keep having tantrums. If you remain calm and firm, that teaches your little one that tantrums won’t help her get what she wants.

I know I mentioned this above, but distracting your toddler works wonders in calming them down and helping them forget how mad they were. This only works if the tantrum isn’t too intense, though. Sometimes, attempting to distract your little one will only make them angrier. 

Make sure to acknowledge your toddler’s emotions. Their feelings, however unreasonable they may be, are very real. Simply saying, “It’s very hurtful when someone takes my toy” goes a long way. It’s ok if your toddler cries, but don’t allow her to kick, hit, or throw things. Timeouts are an excellent way to give them some space to calm down, especially if they are getting out of control. Even adults sometimes need to step away from the situation to calm down.

Ultimately, you can’t rush your toddler to stop their tantrum. The best thing for you to do is to be firm and calmly wait it out. If you find yourself getting too angry, don’t be afraid to step away for a moment and take a few deep breaths.

How Do I Handle Tantrums in Public?

  • Go over your schedule with your child, so she knows exactly what to expect.
  • Don’t lose your cool with your toddler, and take her to a quiet area to calm down if possible.

What Should I Do After My Toddler Has a Tantrum?

After your toddler calms down, offer her some love. Sometimes all your little one needs after all those scary emotions are hugs and cuddles from mommy. Don’t pretend the tantrum didn’t happen or pretend it’s all okay, though. Calmly tell her that tantrums won’t get your attention and encourage her to use words. Ask her what made her so upset and talk about what you both can do better next time she gets sad.

When Should I Call A Doctor?

If your toddler is displaying any of these warning signs, you should contact your doctor.

  • Hurting herself or others
  • Holding her breath, especially to the point of passing out
  • Delayed verbally compared to other kids her age
  • Having worse tantrums or her meltdowns don’t get better after the age of four

To Sum Things Up

I hope I answered your questions about why toddlers have tantrums. Like any other phase your child goes through, the tantrum stage is temporary and won’t last forever. Before you know it, you’ll be sending your little one off to kindergarten, and the tantrum days will be a thing of the past! …Mostly.

If you loved this article and want more toddler advice, check out my activity ideas for toddlers during quarantine.

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Catherine Claesson

I'm a mom with a beautiful baby girl and a blog dedicated to sharing the best, most accurate momming tips, based on personal experience and lots of research.

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