Early childhood is generally divided into three stages.
There is the newborn stage which lasts between birth to two months, infancy which spans between two months to one year, and toddler age which lasts from 12 months to 3 years.
From newborn up until the end of infancy, your baby primarily communicates through crying, gurgling, and blabbers. However, somethings changes at the beginning of toddler-age and it can catch even the most prepared parent off-guard: tantrums.
I can personally attest to this as I’ve witnessed both my boys turn from predictable babies into mood switching toddlers who suddenly have meltdowns out of nowhere. I’ve mentally prepared for it to happen early on, but when it did come, it was truly overwhelming.
When did this change start happening? Just before they turned one.
Why does this happen?
Let me start off by first reassuring you that, no, your sweet compliant baby did not get switched with a tantrum-throwing fiend in the middle of the night while you were asleep.
The tantrum phase may be so out of the ordinary for you and your baby that you may feel that your baby has changed his personality at the heat of the meltdown. However, this occurrence is normal for all babies.
Some parents may brag that they never ever experienced a meltdown with their child, but this can be subjective. Maybe parents are more tolerant towards meltdowns that they don’t perceive one as a tantrum. Maybe their child’s way of having a tantrum does not seem overly intense as other children.
Either way, tantrums are a normal part of early childhood development and is nothing to worry about. It is simply the presence of big emotions in a small body that is still incapable of full verbal expression.
To break it down for you, here are the reasons why tantrums happen:
- Your child is learning how to show intense emotions like anger and frustration.
- At 11 months, your little one can’t talk that well yet. It’s his way of telling you that he is upset about something.
- Your child is already acutely aware of his surroundings and wants to do a lot of things, but is physically limited.
- Your baby is learning to assert his needs and wants to have control over how they are met.
- He dislikes a certain situation but can’t tell you so he physically resists.
Temper Tantrum Dos and Don’ts
So now your young toddler or almost-toddler is having a meltdown. How do you deal with it? What can you do? What shouldn’t you do?
Knowing what needs to be done and what needs to be avoided when it comes to tantrums is tantamount to you and your child’s relationship. It is also the make-or-break moment that will determine how future tantrums will go.
DON’T take it personally
It’s tempting to think that your toddler is screaming like a banshee to spite you. A lot of parents say “she knows just how to push all my buttons” as if their toddler is deliberately trying to piss them off. But this could not be further from reality.
Tantrums are a normal part of childhood development. It simply reflects a stage where your child has no other way of letting all that big emotion out but to kick and scream.
Remember that they do not mean to tick you off, and neither is it a behavioral issue. Also, try not to blame yourself. You did not do anything wrong, your kid is simply having a hard time expressing their frustration.
DO acknowledge and validate your toddler’s feeling
Toddlers can have meltdowns for a wide assortment of reasons -not being able to reach their favorite toy, spilling their juice, getting the wrong colored cup, not being allowed to touch knives -the list is endless.
What is important is that you acknowledge that they are frustrated, sad, or angry. It doesn’t matter as much what it is about, but rather what they feel at the moment.
It won’t help if you shrug it off as unimportant, or worse, laugh about it. How would you feel if you were depressed and people laugh at you or tell you that you’re overreacting?
It doesn’t matter how silly the cause of the tantrum is, but saying things like “I know how sad it is that we need to go home while you’re still having so much fun at the playground” or “I know you still want to play, but it’s bedtime” makes them feel seen and important.
DON’T lose your temper
Throwing your own temper tantrum to overpower your toddler’s temper tantrum is not a good idea. It’s like fighting fire with fire -you’ll end up burning the house down.
No matter how hard it may seem, keeping your cool during a tantrum is the most sustainable action you can do. After all, you want to set a good example for your toddler in handling stressful situations, right?
Keep your voice low and calm and keep your face relaxed and neutral. This is a valuable teaching point if you do it consistently.
Children are good at mirroring parents’ behaviors. If mommy is calm, they learn to be calm too. On the flip side, if you easily get explosive, you’ll have an ill-tempered child in the long term.
DO stay close
This is primarily a safety factor, both physically and emotionally. While it may be hard to keep your composure during a meltdown, it is also not a good idea to walk away. You do not necessarily have to coddle your child while they kick and scream, but you shouldn’t leave them alone either.
Some children may put themselves in dangerous situations when having a meltdown. You want to be there to make sure that your child and the environment around them is safe.
Additionally, experiencing big emotions or becoming so stressed out or frightened is when your child needs you the most. Abandoning them in this tough time will only result to more stress an a possibly bigger meltdown.
Stay within your child’s sight and be available for physical comfort when they are calm enough for hugs. Your presence will reassure them that you are there to support them through tough times In the present and future.
DON’T give in
Children may throw temper tantrums because of an unmet need: they feel tired, hungry, stressed, or afraid. However, sometimes, they may throw a temper tantrum over something that they want but it unnecessary or impossible (such as having candy for breakfast or playing with needles).
This scenario is super familiar: a child throws a major tantrum in the middle of the mall because he wants a new toy. Some parents, out of shame, will automatically give in to their child’s wants just to get it over with. Or worse, bribe them with something like “you can have X if you just quiet down”.
While this method may keep them quiet for the meantime, it will only result in more temper tantrums in the future. Why? Because your child now knows that temper tantrums can get him whatever he wants.
In situations like this, it is critical to assess if the temper tantrum is out of an actual need (food, rest or comfort) or just a want (a new toy, a treat, or a dangerous activity or object).
If you determine that it’s a want that you should not provide, it is still best to validate your toddler’s feelings as previously discussed. Offer comfort without having to give in.
DON’T punish your child for the tantrum
Remember that a tantrum is only a manifestation and is mostly beyond your toddler’s full control. They are not throwing tantrums to be “bad” or to provoke you. They simply don’t know any other way to express frustration.
If a punishment is indeed in order (e.g. when they hit a sibling before the tantrum) wait for the tantrum to pass. When they are already calm enough, you may administer the punishment.
Punishment in the middle of the tantrum may only cause confusion and more intensity in the meltdown.
Your child will not be able to tell what exactly caused the punishment in the heat of the moment. Therefore, whatever you were trying to correct (e.g. hitting) will not be properly addressed and the bad behavior will still continue.
DO watch out for underlying problems
While we did establish that temper tantrums are normal, sometimes, they may signal something more serious. If the tantrums are so severe and so often that it affects daily life, it might be a sign of something else going on.
For example, children with speech delays may have more frequent tantrums that do not improve as they grow.
This is no cause for alarm though and is actually a good thing if you identify it early on. Early intervention can help your child tremendously. It will help him catch up or give him the opportunity to grow and develop as normally as possible.
Help may come from a specialist. You can ask for recommendations from your pediatrician if it is something that concerns you. Additionally, several family counselors are available too to help guide you on how to handle tantrums and discipline in a healthy and sustainable wmanner.
Tantrums are no walk in the park. They are intense and draining for both parent and child. In this tumultuous phase, I hope you find the resilience to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.
The one thing that I found helpful is empathy. It’s sometimes hard to remember that our kids are just little people who have their own needs and wants. They just have it harder at their age because they can’t express things properly.
The sooner you teach your child healthy communication to vocalize their needs, provide constant and consistent reassurance and love, you can look forward to better and tantrum-free days ahead.