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Why do children have tantrums?

toddler having tantrum

Tantrums—these intense displays of emotion can leave us feeling bewildered, frustrated, and, at times, utterly helpless. Tantrums are a normal part of childhood development, and understanding the underlying reasons can make navigating these storms a bit more manageable.

Let's start by acknowledging that tantrums are not exclusive to toddlers. Yes, they are mostly associated with this developmental stage, but children of various ages and even adults can have tantrums. Understanding the reasons behind these emotional outbursts is the first step in helping to support your child.

Tantrums are, in many ways, a child's way of expressing overwhelming emotions when they haven't yet developed the language skills to articulate their feelings. Think of a tantrum as a pressure cooker—your child's emotions are building up, and without a release valve, the steam has to escape somehow. Enter the tantrum. This release, though dramatic, is a necessary part of a child's emotional development. It's their way of letting you know that there is something bothering them or that they wan or need something they are unable to get.

Over stimulation:

Now, let's dive into the various triggers. First and foremost, children are, by nature, curious, exploring a world that is new and, at times, bewildering. Imagine being a tiny human, surrounded by towering giants, navigating a sea of information and stimuli. It's easy to see how the simplest things—a change in routine, a new environment, or even a slight deviation from their expectations—can tip the scales and trigger a tantrum.

Difficulties communicating:

Communication plays a crucial role in tantrum management. Example: Your toddler points enthusiastically at a cookie jar, eyes wide with anticipation. You, however, misinterpret their gesture and hand them a piece of fruit instead. Cue the meltdown. Frustration sets in when a child is unable to convey their desires, needs, or feelings effectively. It's like speaking a different language and not being understood—frustrating, right?

Here's where the importance of empathy comes into play: While it might be tempting to dismiss a tantrum as mere theatrics, acknowledging your child's emotions can make a world of difference. Picture yourself in their tiny shoes, grappling with a surge of emotions without the tools to express them adequately. It's a tough spot to be in, and sometimes all they need is a compassionate ally to help them navigate the storm.

Seeking Autonomy:

Now, let's talk about the infamous power struggle. As children grow, they naturally crave a sense of autonomy. The "I can do it myself" phase is a prime example. However, when their budding independence clashes with the limitations set by adults, a power struggle ensues. Tantrums can be a result of a child's frustration at not being able to assert their newfound independence.

Example: Your four-year-old insists on tying their shoes, but their fingers fumble with the laces. In your attempt to save time, you offer to do it for them, unknowingly triggering a battle for control. The outcome? A full-blown tantrum. While it's essential to set boundaries and provide guidance, finding a balance between fostering independence and offering support can help mitigate power struggles and, consequently, tantrums.


Let's not forget about fatigue. Example: Your child skipped their nap, had a busy day at daycare, and is now at a playground. As the day progresses, fatigue sets in, making them more susceptible to tantrums. Just like adults, children can become irritable, moody, and less able to cope with frustration when they're tired.

In these moments, tantrums can be a cry for rest and relaxation. It's their way of saying, "I've reached my limit, and I need a break." Recognizing the signs of fatigue and implementing a consistent sleep routine can significantly reduce the likelihood of tantrums caused by exhaustion.

Tantrums are a universal experience in the world of parenting and caregiving. Understanding the triggers, practicing empathy, and implementing consistent strategies can both reduce these emotional storms and turn them into valuable learning opportunities for your child.


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