9 Reasons Your Toddler Might Be Having A Tantrum

Angry toddler spitting up food

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Most parents are familiar with tantrums. They are completely normal if not a little frustrating for you the parent. When your child throws a tantrum your knee-jerk reaction is to immediately soothe them.

This can be a little difficult when you don’t know why your child is throwing a tantrum—especially if they are at an age where they are still learning to communicate effectively. Tantrums range in intensity from quietly crying to screaming and kicking. They are most common between the ages of 1 and 3.

A tantrum could last from 3 to 15 minutes and can sometimes be concerning. But in most cases, they are nothing to worry about and will pass quickly. Here's what you need to know about tantrums.

Why Is My Toddler Having a Tantrum?


In order for you to help your toddler through their tantrum, you must first understand why they are throwing the tantrum. Are they doing it because they aren’t getting their way? Or are they frustrated with the situation?

 “Our little toddlers do not have the ability to regulate their emotions on their own. This means when everyday life happens such as a show ending, a friend taking a toy, or not getting mac and cheese for lunch, their fight or flight reflex may be triggered,” says Jessica VanderWier, founder of Our Mama Village and registered parenting and child psychotherapist, who has a master's degree in counseling psychology. 

Common Reasons for Tantrums

Usually, there are several reasons behind your toddler’s tantrums. Here are the most common reasons for a toddler’s tantrum.

  1. Your child is hungry. Sometimes the cause of your child’s tantrum might be quite simply they are hungry. In most cases, feeding them will put an end to their tantrum.
  2. Your toddler is tired. When toddlers feel tired they have a hard time communicating it, which might cause them to throw a tantrum. If your child is throwing a tantrum because they are tired you might notice that they are slow and irritable or refuse to engage in any activities. 
  3. Your child is overstimulated. If your child is overstimulated this can cause them to throw a tantrum. Your child might become overstimulated because of bright lights or loud noises. If this is the case, they may cover their eyes or put their hands over their ears. 
  4. Your child is frustrated. Frustration is a major reason many toddlers throw tantrums. This might be because you told them no or they want a toy. In these cases, you can ignore their tantrums and it’ll pass as soon as their attention shifts onto something else.
  5. Your child wants your attention. Another common reason many toddlers throw tantrums is simply that they want your attention. They might want you to pick them up or spend a little time coddling them. Just doing this could soothe their tantrums.

However, you shouldn’t always give in when your child is throwing a tantrum just to get your attention like if you are busy or working. Ignoring them can seem tortuous at first but in the long run, it helps them be more independent and get a firmer grip on their emotions.

When Should I Worry About My Toddler’s Tantrums  

Tantrums are a normal and healthy part of your child’s development. One study shows that about half of children experience tantrums weekly. These tantrums were reported to be mild and last an average of minutes. 

In rare cases, your toddler’s tantrum could be a sign of an underlying problem. The intensity and frequency of your child’s tantrums might point to whether or not this is the case.

“The age range for tantrums is about 1 year up until age 5. It may cause concern if the child is continuing to tantrum into the ages above," says Amna Husain, MD a board-certified pediatrician and the founder of Pure Direct Pediatric. "Other causes of concern would be harmful behavior to themselves or others or new or unusual behavior with tantrums,”

If you find that your child’s tantrums are frequent and severe in intensity, and easing them is near impossible, there could be another issue at play. Here are some things that could be causing your child's tantrums.

Anxiety

It might seem odd for your toddler to be experiencing anxiety but many children experience anxiety in varying forms. Some children might be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder while others experience anxiety because of stress or trauma.

“Anxiety is another reason for toddler tantrums. If you’ve noticed your child is having trouble sleeping or is waking up with night terrors, and having frequent tantrums, your child could be experiencing anxiety and you should check in with your pediatrician,” says Navya Mysore, MD a primary care physician at One Medical in New York City.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a common condition that affects children of all ages and it often goes undiagnosed. Some of the most common symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattention.

A child with ADHD will often feel frustrated when dealing with situations that trigger symptoms of their condition and this can cause tantrums. While toddlers are rarely diagnosed with ADHD, research shows that children as young as 4 could have the condition.

Autism

Toddlers on the spectrum are more prone to tantrums than those who aren’t. Many children on the spectrum also struggle with sensory overstimulation. This occurs when any of their senses become overwhelmed.

For children with autism, lights don’t have to be too bright or a sound too loud for them to become overwhelmed. Toddlers with autism can’t communicate this, so they throw a tantrum instead.

Amy Nasmran, PhD

Some toddlers who are more sensitive to environmental stimuli may throw a tantrum from becoming overwhelmed by the environment, such as too much noise, scratchy clothes, or being around large crowds.

— Amy Nasmran, PhD

Amy Nasmran, PhD, is a certified parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) therapist.

Mood Disorders

Some kids suffer from mood disorders. Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) is a recent condition that is common in children. Children with depression are particularly prone to tantrums. Research shows that children who are depressed are likely to engage in self-harm when throwing a tantrum.

Tantrums happen for many reasons. It's important for parents to find the root cause of their kids' tantrums. This helps you deal with it better.

“A few common reasons why tantrums happen are, the child is overwhelmed, the child is tired; the child is hungry; the child wants a toy or activity they cannot have; the child wants to leave a situation; the child doesn’t want to engage in a task; the child is needing a break; parents are overwhelmed and stressed, or there is a big change in the child’s life—and the list goes on. Staying curious about the 'why' behind the tantrum can help you know how to best support your child,” says VanderWier.

How To Deal With Your Toddler’s Tantrum 

It can be overwhelming when your toddler throw’s a tantrum, but finding ways to deal with it in a healthy and effective manner is important. Try to keep calm as you get to the source of the tantrum.

If your child is throwing a tantrum just to get their way, you shouldn’t indulge them. In this case, ignoring them is the best thing to do. If you can distract your toddler, once their attention shifts it’ll put an end to their tantrum.

If they are having a tantrum over a toy they are not supposed to have, try to engage them with another activity. You can also help your child avoid situations that trigger their tantrums like an overcrowded room for instance.

If your kid is over the age of 4 and still having tantrums you should speak to your doctor. Very violent tantrums that result in self-harm or harm to others could also be a cause for concern.

A Word From Verywell 

Tantrums are normal and in some cases even show that your child is developing healthily. However, they can be frustrating for parents especially when they occur frequently. It’s important to examine why your child is having a tantrum in order to help them through it.

Though it might be difficult, it helps to remain calm when your toddler is throwing a tantrum. Children outgrow tantrums as they grow and get a firmer grasp on their emotions and their communication skills. 

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Article Sources
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