Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tantrums: A Normal Part of Development

Research suggests that emotional outbursts in toddlers and young children are caused by a child attempting to establish his/her independence from mom and dad. Young children also have a hard time identifying and articulating their emotions, so often times the outcome of this difficulty is frustration and anger. Experts have concluded that naming a toddler’s emotion aloud may help them distinguish what they are experiencing. This tactic may not calm a child down immediately, however it will allow them to acknowledge that you understand what they are feeling and help them identify future emotions. Discussing emotions with your child will consequently help them establish better social skills and self-expression. 

Fits of anger can strike at any moment and understanding the source leading up these events can help both you and your child walk away from the episode with the least amount of distress.

Identifying Triggers
Although each child is complex in how they may react to certain situations, many have similar triggers leading up to an emotional outburst. So the important thing to ask yourself is, why is my child really upset? Is it because you offered him/her milk when what they really wanted was a cheese stick or are they experiencing more complex emotions based on their development? Here is a checklist to scan through when your child is starting to lose control of his/her emotions:

Making sure your child’s nighttime and nap schedules are consistent for the most part. We all need sufficient sleep to feel good, so add a growing body and mind to the mix and there is no wonder why a child will become cranky without ample rest. The issue with sleep is that sometimes a child is sick or going through a developmental milestone, which affects his/her sleep patterns.

Hungry or Thirsty
Offer your child a healthy variety of snacks and fluids throughout the day between meals.

Physically ill
Be aware of physical discomfort such as teething, fever or cold symptoms. In a case of physical illness, rest is important.

Communication Issues
Verbal limitations may cause a child to feel misunderstood so naming their emotions will help ease their distress.

Give your child a measure of control over their environment and activities. Allow your child to pick out his/her shirt for the day or choose which fruit they would prefer to eat as a snack. Possibly give them a few different bedtime story options as well.

Be sure to be consistent with what you allow and do not allow. Otherwise, your child may become confused to why you say, “yes” one day and “no” another.

Overstimulation or Loud Environments
Remove your child from the stressful environment and redirect them by offering them a toy or snack once they have calmed down.

Upset at A Parent’s Reaction
Keeping your cool while your child is having a meltdown is a test of patience. Anger and frustration on your part will only feed your child’s upset. Although it is unrealistic to be calm every time your child is experiencing frustration, keeping in mind to stay calm the majority of the time important. We all have moments where we wish we reacted differently to our kids, however the key is not to be the best parent, it is to be a better one.

Offering emotional and physical support after the initial outburst lets your child know that you will be there for them unconditionally and that they are okay. As demanding as dealing with an upset child may be, it is essential to keep in mind that overcoming this obstacle, while staying consistent and calm is what is most important. The chaotic event may be difficult to conquer in the moment, however it is a vital opportunity to help teach your child to deal with complex emotions in a healthy manner. Every time you accompany a tantrum with calm confidence you are modeling how to deal with stress and emotional regulation efficiently. Keep in mind that your kids are watching, listening and taking it all in. 


  1. Eloise is going through this big time. Sometimes there's nothing you can do except let them get it out!

  2. Jennifer,

    Watching a tantrum is intense. Allowing Eloise to unload is a great way to let her feel accepted.

  3. My kid is going through this phase and it's really hard for me to have the patience I wish for. . I'm so tired. You offer great information on triggers that can help. Thanks for posting.

    - Maggie L.

  4. Maggie,

    Thank you for visiting and I'm hoping this post has helped in some way. Each new phase brings new challenges to overcome and provides you with more knowledge as a parent, so it's worth it in the end. Alone time where you fulfill your needs are key for your wellbeing as well. Every parent and mom needs special time.