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Understanding toddler tantrums

The correct diagnosis of why a tantrum is happening helps to tame them, and eventually end them.
The correct diagnosis of why a tantrum is happening helps to tame them, and eventually end them.
Matthew Cross

Just the word "tantrum" makes most at-home dads want to fold up like a lawn chair. It brings forth the same emotions as "PC Load Letter" does for the working folk.

But before you can learn to effectively deal with tantrums, you must first truly understand why they happen.

The caveman analogy is perfect. Picture a caveman beating his chest and grunting at everything around him out of frustration. Cavemen lacked the social sophistication to express themselves in any other way, and so do toddlers.

Most likely, your child is screaming and writhing around on the floor either in an attempt to express frustration or get attention. But what kind of attention? Is it because they want a toy they can't have, or is it because they merely want you to play with them? How you handle a tantrum should be vastly different depending on why the child is upset.

So your first job is to determine the reasoning behind the child's conduct. Many at-home parents fail in this regard - probably because they are exhausted and desensitized to adverse behavior. But here are some common reasons for tantrums that often get overlooked:

- Attention seeking behavior. Kids quickly get frustrated when they have something to say or do, and nobody is listening. Creative ones are especially prone to this type of tantrum.

- Physical discomfort. This usually comes from expecting your child to hang with you during errands for too long. A hungry or tired kid is a ticking time bomb.

- Emotional overload. Children have a hard time dealing with the fear of going to the doctor, the excitement of too many other kids in the room, or the boredom of a grocery store. These errands need to be carefully planned out to avoid a meltdown.

It's probably fairly obvious why kids have a tantrums in the toy aisle at Target. I feel the same way when I have to pass by the super-deluxe garage heater at Menard's without chucking it in my cart. But at-home dads tend to find some of the other reasons for tantrums more perplexing and more difficult to diagnose.

All it takes to master your kids' tantrums is more diligence. When your child throws a tantrum, write it down and note what circumstances might have sparked it. Soon, you'll start seeing trends, and then you'll be able to plan ahead.

This tip is free: It's generally a bad idea to strap your two-year-old in a grocery cart at 10:30 a.m. because the combination of tired, hungry, bored, and visually overwhelmed equals disaster. 


  • Sean 5 years ago

    My dad believed that a good tantrum was solved by a good whack on the bottom. Since this is 2010, and I don't want to be arrested, I give in too often. Thanks for the advice and arena for discussion. Hopefully this tantrum phase will pass soon.

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