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What Causes A Toddler Tantrum?

Let’s face it - we all dread the temper tantrum! Your child is in tears, they’re screaming and shouting, and maybe even lashing out and trying to hit something. It’s hard to control, hard to calm down, and it’s not pretty! Doubly so if your child has a tantrum in a public place; you can end up feeling very embarrassed and feeling like a bad parent.

However, a temper tantrum is never a reflection on you. They’re a big part of growing up, and you probably threw quite a few when you were young too. And seeing as tantrums tend to phase out as your child gets older, they’re usually not something to worry about.

But if you’ve got a 3 or 4-year-old who loves to try and throw their weight around, it’s time to find out why. Sure, tantrums can happen for many reasons, but we’ve got the two most common below, as well as a little list of how best to avoid tantrums in the future.

No real ability to communicate their feelings

Toddlers lack the real ability to tell you how they feel. They don’t have all the words for it yet, and they might not be able to get their anger, sadness, or frustration across to you. Their emotions are still developing, and it’ll take quite a few years before they get used to all the ups and downs life brings them. They certainly don’t know what the words ‘productive’ or ‘constructive’ means yet! So, they resort to the one thing they do know: having a bit of a meltdown.

They can get their feelings out all at once this way, and as their parent, you naturally respond! You may try to calm them down, you get them to talk about what it is they want, or you may give them some time out to cool off on their own. Either way, these are the results a child is looking for when they have a tantrum, even if they’re not actively seeking them out. Tantrums simply seem to work and lead to a solution they’re mostly satisfied with, which sorts out their feelings and makes it all better.

The need to push their boundaries

On the other hand, some toddlers throw tantrums in order to push their boundaries. Maybe they want something you’ve said no to? Maybe they don’t want to go to bed? No matter why they’re having a tantrum, if it’s in response to a negative from you, they’re usually just trying to get their own way.

And knowing this can be incredibly frustrating! You’re trying to put boundaries in place that they’re pushing against, and you’re just not sure what you should do here. And standing your ground is easier said than done! After all, you’re both facing off against each other, both of you wanting to be in control, and when it becomes clear to them that you’re in charge, the tantrum comes on in full bloom.

But what can you do?

Well, avoiding tantrums in the future can be possible. As long as you know what kind of tantrum your child is throwing, you can do things to combat it and reduce the chances of similar episodes occurring. For example:

Out of sight, out of mind

If your toddler throws tantrums because they don’t get something they want, it’s important to try and reduce their contact with said item(s) as much as possible. Maybe they’re a big fan of sweets? Try storing them up high and behind a cupboard door in the future, where your little one can neither see nor reach. Simply put, they’re much less likely to ask about them when the sweets aren’t in front of them and much less likely to have a tantrum when you say no.

Have a distraction ready

Toddlers have naturally short attention spans, and that’s something you can make good use of! So, if they want to do something and are willing to have a tantrum over it, offer them something equally as fun to do instead. Say they want to watch a cartoon, but the TV is in use by someone else - take them outside and get them to kick a ball around, or open up their colouring books and do a couple of pages together.

Never give in!

As we mentioned above, a lot of tantrums are thrown simply because they work. Now, your child might not be actively aware that having a tantrum means they get their own way, but they’ll recognise the pattern. So try not to give in! Stand your ground, even if you hate seeing your child so distressed, and wait for them to calm down before talking things out with them.

It’s also a good idea to try and give them back a bit of control, in tiny ways that matter little to their health and safety. Letting them pick which snack they want out of any three you offer them or letting them choose which colour toothbrush when you go shopping, shows them that their voice still matters without needing to have a tantrum about it!

Get used to their limits

Kids have far lower tolerance levels than we do. This is usually shown when you’re out and about somewhere and the kids are with you; if you’re out shopping, and your toddler has a tantrum in the middle of the veggie aisle, it means they’re reaching their limit. They’re getting tired or hungry, and ultimately, really cranky, and that’s important to keep in mind.

If you find your toddler struggles a lot with running errands, try to plan any excursions around their energy levels. If they’ve just got back from preschool, a quick trip around the supermarket is fine, but heading into town and going through 3 or 4 other shops probably won’t be!

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