Toddler Tantrum

Your toddler probably has boundless energy. Often challenging you until she gets the result she wants. If she doesn't get her way she'll usually stop trying and move onto something else, with that she has learnt a boundary.  If you give in during a tantrum, even once, your toddler will usually keep going until you give in again.

Your toddler has a very strong desire to have things her way so when she is unable to get things to go her way, she gets frustrated and acts out what toddlers are famous for — TANTRUMS.

Your toddler's temperament, the state of her tiredness and degree of hunger influences the length, frequency and intensity of a tantrum.

A similar tantrum-like behaviour may happen just before a physical milestone such as crawling or walking. This frustration in your baby or toddler helps to propel them forward to achieve. 

TANTRUMS are a physical outburst of the frustration felt by your toddler when things aren’t going the way she would like them to. Common tantrum behaviours exhibited by toddlers include:

  • Stamping the feet
  • Screaming and yelling
  • Kicking
  • Squealing
  • Throwing herself to the floor
  • Head banging on the floor or a wall
  • Holding her breath until she passes out (now there’s a fun one)
  • Biting
  • Deliberately not eating
  • Holding in poo.

It is important to recognise that tantrums are normal behaviour in your toddler's development. Tantrums can be one of two types - manipulative tantrums and frustration tantrums. 

Manipulative tantrums arise out of desire.  Your toddler may use manipulative tantrums to get things done her way such as to force you to buy a toy or a lolly. It is best to ignore and walk away from these tantrums. If you change your mind and decide her request is actually reasonable, don't give the request until her behaviour has calmed down, otherwise you are rewarding tantrum behaviour. 

Frustration tantrums arise out of an inability to express emotion. Sometimes your toddler’s mental and motor skills have progressed quicker than her ability to communicate. Not being able to express herself enough for you to understand what she wants to do or get done, leads to a frustration tantrum. Therefore, don’t ignore this tantrum but instead help her work through the problem.

A TANTRUM indicates that your toddler is gaining a healthy sense of identity and independence, which is a good thing. Therefore, your response to a tantrum is significant for what your toddler learns about controlling emotions and making acceptable choices. Eventually, self-control and constructive willpower will be learnt.

How to survive these challenging years:

  • Set sensible expectations and limits of behaviour and BE CONSISTENT when enforcing them as your toddler quickly learns you mean what you say if you follow through but they are confused when you don’t follow through.
  • Both parents need to agree with the same boundaries to enforce. However, you may consider having different boundaries when a different parent looks after them. 
  • When going on outings, explain to your toddler in simple terms where you are going and what behaviour is expected.  Keep expectations positive, not negative as it helps the brain focus. For example; say 'we walk when we are inside Jane’s house' not 'we don’t run in Jane’s house'. 
  • Help your toddler find ways to cope with their emotions; i.e. 'when I feel sad, looking at a colourful book makes me feel happier'. 
  • Try to avoid situations that are likely to result in a tantrum. For example; if your toddler is tired and hungry don't go grocery shopping.
  • When there's a tantrum, handle it appropriately to the type of tantrum outlined above, then move on with a different focus.
  • Let your toddler know that it's the behaviour that's not acceptable, it's not her that's not acceptable. For example, “biting Ava was an unkind thing to do”, rather than saying, “you are a bad girl for biting Ava”.
  • Keep instructions simple and on point.
  • If it's appropriate, ignore some behaviours or put her in a safe place until she calms down - avoid using the bedroom. Keep the bedroom a happy place not one of punishment or you will find it a battle to get your toddler to bed at night.
  • Time-out disciplines usually work best for toddlers over 2 ½ years of age. For younger toddlers it's better to avoid some situations, distract or move away.
  • Keep focused through this stage of development and remember you are teaching your toddler about self-control, consequences of her actions and acceptable choices.
  • Give your toddler consistent messages. For example; if you laugh at an action she did at home but get angry at the same action when she is out, the message she gets is inconsistent and confusing.
  • The tone and pitch of your voice is just as important as the words you say.
Handling tantrums at public places:
  • Your toddler may be uncomfortable in new surroundings, crowds or busyness. If she often throws tantrums at public places like shopping malls, she may not like to be out in an unfamiliar place and around unfamiliar people.
  • Be prepared to feed your toddler. Always take food and water along so that you can feed her if she feels hungry or thirsty at a public place.
  • Take your toddler away from the crowd. If your toddler is not settling down you may take her to a quiet place like a restroom or to your car and let her calm down. Once she is better, talk to her in a gentle tone – reassure her that you are around if she feels afraid.
  • Have her favourite possessions like water bottle, sipper cup or her favorite toy with you. 

One on one consultation 

Jan Murray has been committed to studying and working as a Registered Nurse, Midwife and Child Health Nurse for over 25 years. Jan has a bachelor of Behavioural Science, is a mother and nanna, who co-founded and directs Settle Petal. Jan provides information and support for parents to develop their knowledge base and confidence.

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