I used to think the hardest part of parenting was surviving the newborn stage, because the beginning is such a steep, unforgiving learning curve. Then my baby became a toddler and I realized I was wrong. When my daughter first started having tantrums, I desperately tried to understand what she was attempting to communicate. I would have killed for a user manual, or even just to have a basic idea of what toddlers want you to know about their tantrums.
What's interesting is how different those tantrums can be. My daughter's tantrums were extremely emotional; less about flailing around on the ground in extreme anger and more about being paralyzed by her emotions. In those moments, I usually just had to sit them out with earplugs firmly in place. My son, on the other hand, is all about the drama. This kid prepares himself for a tantrum, looking around to make sure there's enough space so he can throw himself onto the floor. He's even sunk to his knees, hands in the air, shouting "No!" at the top of his lungs. It's pretty hard not to laugh at him, honestly.
That being said, I'm now more tuned in to why my kids might be losing their cool and infinitely more aware of what their tantrums might mean, than I was in the beginning. Toddlers aren't just losing it for no reason; they are usually trying to communicate their emotions or feelings the only way they know how. If you ask me, these are 12 things your toddler wants you to know about their tantrums, that they just can't tell you (yet):
Being overly tired turns pretty much anyone into a jerk. The problem that toddlers run into is that they don't always (OK, almost never) recognize the signals their bodies are giving them until it's too late, at which point everyone is sufficiently screwed.
Sometimes, a tantrum is just a way of blowing off steam. There are so many things toddlers are taking in and trying to comprehend (all the while learning and developing at rapid speed) that I can imagine it might be hard to figure out what is what.
New words, new experiences, all those emotions hitting you all at the same time and you don't even have words to describe them. Being a toddler is hard. If I'm being honest, life as an adult is too much for me to handle sometimes, and I've been at it for far longer than any toddler has. Honestly, I don't blame them for losing it.
I often fall into the trap of treating my toddler more like my four-year-old, especially when it comes to certain activities. Even something as simple as what to eat for lunch can become too much, if you give them too many choices.
Being hungry is often the culprit of meltdowns (well, at least it is in our house). I'm not just talking about the kids, either. My kids learn the term "hangry" from a very young age.
One of the hardest things about being a toddler, it seems, is that the complexity of their emotions is just not something they have words for. Can you imagine the frustration of trying to put into words that which you do not have words for?
You may be completely mortified to have to deal with your toddler's meltdown in the middle of a museum you were sure they'd enjoy, but I guarantee they didn't plan for it happen. Toddlers don't plan at all, actually. Will it feel a little vindictive? Maybe, but I guarantee you, it's not.
It doesn't matter if you know they'll never be able to do what it is they're trying to do, being a toddler is about craving autonomy. Allowing your child to try, and fail, is important. Even if it means they'll have a meltdown because they've failed.
Toddlers don't throw temper tantrums because they're trying to get back at their parents for something that happened earlier. There's no end game they're playing, so try not to get resentful or blame them when they lose it.
We all want our children to have experiences that are magical and exciting, but it can end up being overwhelming for them, especially when there's too much going on. Something as simple as taking them to the zoo can cause your kid to lose their cool, despite your best intentions, because the smells, the sounds, the colors, the crowds, and all the walking around are just more than they can handle.
This can go hand in hand with sensory overload. If your kid has spent a day at a busy event, or watched a little too much loud TV, it may be time (once they have calmed down, obviously) to sit down and read a book or two with them.
There can be a legitimate need for a connection. Both of my kids generally end their meltdowns with the forlorn cry of "Mama" and the moment I gather them up in my arms, they settle down.