Tantrums and Their Meaning: What to Do about Toddler Tantrums

Tantrums – every parent knows what they are like! But what do toddler tantrums mean? They can be difficult to understand – and it’s difficult for moms to know what to do about them, too! OMO knows how important your little ones are – and we want to help moms understand this important stage in child development. We’ve been talking with Jimi McJunkin, who has been working with children and families in the USA for over 20 years.

Jimi has some great information and advice for moms about tantrums. In our previous article, we talked with Jimi about temper tantrums and the terrible twos. Here, we will discuss tantrums’ meaning and give you some advice on dealing with toddler tantrums.

OMO Explains Toddlers' Temper Tantrums

Why do tantrums occur? Parents often can’t explain the reason behind their child’s sudden screaming, crying, and kicking.

“If I can put it into one word, it’s frustration. A two year old is beginning to feel a healthy amount of control, maybe for the first time. They are figuring many things out – how to play games, make friends, walk, talk, and explore their worlds. But there are still so many things that they can’t figure out or control. Their ability to feel their feelings is without a doubt – but their ability to express their feelings in an acceptable way, and a way that will get them what they want, is frustratingly just not there yet. “Just try to remember that your child is not being malicious or manipulative, at least not on purpose. You may not know if they are feeling scared, angry, or tired, but you can be sure that they are frustrated that things are not going their way.”

Are there ways to prevent tantrums from happening? How can parents spot the signs that toddler tantrums are about to happen?

“The good news here is that it can be much easier to avoid a temper tantrum than to stop one in full effect. While the signs of an oncoming temper tantrum may be different for different children (a quivering lip, balled fists, or an indignant look), it is most important to get to know the signs in your own child. Most parents will see a theme in what happens before their children throw a tantrum. Does your child seem to tantrum in new places, or when they can’t have the food they are accustomed to? Do your best to plan for these occasions if possible. “Some typical triggers for tantrums are bedtime, visiting an unfamiliar place, not getting the attention of their parents, or having to share that attention. Other triggers might be having to spend time alone, or being dropped off at school.”

There appears to be some disagreement among parents on how to deal with tantrum behaviour. Is there a “right” way of dealing with a tantrum, or does it depend on the child?

I don’t believe that there is a ‘right’ way, necessarily, for dealing with tantrums, but I have a friend who deals with her son’s tantrums in the most beautiful and effective way. She never seems to give in to unreasonable demands, but she will get down to her son’s level, literally getting on her knee to look her son in the eyes and tell him that this is not the way to get what he wants. I have watched her tell her son that she wants to help, if she can, but first he needs to calm down and use his words as best as he can. The little guy often calms down a bit then and there, realising that he does have some power in the situation.

“My friend then gives him clear choices, offering things that have calmed him at other times, as well as offering him time to go to another room or to the backyard to calm himself so that he can tell her what he wants. If he is not able to calm himself, she will take him to another room and tell him calmly that all he needs to do is calm down enough to tell her what he wants and she will see if she can help him. “I don’t know that this would work with all children, but it seems to work with enough to give it a try. And even though many would argue against it, I do believe that affection can help in a tantrum situation. Something as simple as a gentle rub of an arm while explaining what is expected of the child may work for some.”

How should parents deal with tantrums that happen in public?

“Tantrums in public are tough, and I can understand that they can be embarrassing for some. Remember that they are a natural and common part of the development of a child though. It is important to remember that what helps a child calm down from a tantrum at home will usually work in public as well. Parents may become embarrassed enough to make them flustered and they might overreact in public, making the whole thing worse than it needs to be. Try to remember to be as calm as you can, stay true to what works for you and your child, and if necessary and possible, take your child outside or to another room until they can calm down.”