All About Toddler Tantrums
I want to share my knowledge around toddler tantrums in this blog post to help you to feel more empowered as parents, for when the tantrums naturally arise – because they are a really normal part of a toddler’s development.
Why tantrums happen
I am a true believer that there is always a reason for a behaviour so when your toddler does something that may seem ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult‘ – there is always a reason for this. From birth, the brain is only about 25% of the size that it will be in adulthood and it is suggested that, eventually, it gets to its full size at around age 21. So that’s a huge amount of growing! The first part of this brain growth is done in the first couple of years in life so, as a toddler, think how many new emotions, feelings and experiences they are learning every day. This can be quite overwhelming for a small child and it feels very real. They’re having to get to grips with so much more than we are so tantrums are a normal part of their development and do not mean that they’re just being naughty.
It’s suggested that there are 7-00 neural synapses that are created every second in a toddler’s brain
By their third birthday, there have been one thousand trillion new connections made in their brain so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to us, as adults, that a toddler can’t always cope with you denying them a snack or asking them to put their shoes on when they’re playing.
Our toddlers’ brains have the ‘upstairs / ‘downstairs’ brain. One is primitive – deals with sleep and digestion – and one is not fully developed, the pre-frontal cortex, that deals with emotion, control, planning and empathy. All of the things that a toddler is not! That part of their brain isn’t developed so, during a tantrum, there will be a reason that they are behaving in a certain way, it is because they cannot control an impulse and understanding why they’re doing this is key in helping them to move through an emotion.
What happens when a child has a tantrum?
When a child has a tantrum, they have lost all control. They cannot control the thought or feeling that was consuming them and so they break down. By having a meltdown, it helps to push these feelings out. It is our job, as adults, to help them to calm down, self-regulate and not lash out.
The various type of tantrums and what we can do about them
A strategic tantrum
This is when your child knows that if they do X then they will get Y. This is a strategy and, during this type of tantrum, a child is in control. This is often when they kick off because you’ve said ‘no’ to something and so they try this behaviour to see if it gets them what they want. To encourage your child out of a strategic tantrum, you can use distraction techniques or ignore the behaviour so that they don’t get a reaction for it.
An emotional tantrum
A 2-3 year old may have a major meltdown – an emotional tantrum – once a day or once every few days. This type of tantrum will need your help to encourage them out of it because when a toddler has an episode like this they cannot get themselves out of it because their brains are not developed in a way to help them come out of this type of tantrum.
Don’t see it as your job to stop the tantrum. First of all, we need to check in as parents and check that we are in the right frame of mind to support the child. Taking 10 deep breaths before responding means that you will be far better placed to support their nervous system to calm down. If you approach them when you are cross, they won’t calm down.
Secondly, make sure your child is safe and then sit or stand next to them and attempt to reassure them. If you can tell them HOW they are feeling, they will be able to deal with it a bit better. For example, ‘I can see you’re feeling angry because Mummy won’t let you have that yoghurt’. This helps their thinking process and allows them to communicate and connect their emotion with the situation.
It’s not your job to stop them crying, it’s your job to stay with them.
If you find that talking doesn’t help, then simply being near them with your physical presence will help them to calm down.
Don’t throw alternative situations at them or confuse them: keep it really simple.
The most important thing for them is to show them it’s ok to feel a certain way, you understand that they feel a certain way and that you’re there for them, if they need you.
Once your child starts to come out of the tantrum, this is the ideal time to talk to them and explain whatever situation upset them. Starting to help them to understand what happens and suggest how they may react next time they feel that emotion, to help them. This shows them that we are ready to listen and are there for them, whatever happens.
If we’re there for our children at this age, they learn that we will be there for them in the future. We want our children to know that their feelings are valid so anything that you can do during this important stage of their development is to learn that their parents are here for them, always.