9 Things Your Kid Is Trying To Tell You When They're Acting Out
Until your kid develops substantial communication skills, and can adequately convey their emotions, tantrums are a very real, very frustrating, very common thing. Sure, there are multiple ways to deal with a toddler tantrum without ending up in a puddle of your own tears, which usually starts with attempting to understand what your kid is trying to say via ineffectual kicks and screams and yelling, but it's difficult to maintain your composure and patience in the midst of that yelling. So. Much. Yelling. Still, it's worth the effort, because there are plenty of things your kid is trying to tell you when they're acting out, that demand (and honestly, deserve) your attention.
I vividly remember the first time my kid threw a tantrum, and I was beside myself. I was mostly frustrated, somewhat scared and at a loss as to what to do or how to make him stop. I didn't want to act out irrationally, I didn't want to leave the scene and wait for him to calm down, but I didn't want to make the situation worse. Since my son was unable to talk to me in complete sentences, I was at the mercy of a quick google search and the art of internally screaming until the tantrum subsided. In other words, it sucked.
Still, regardless of how horrible a toddler tantrum can be (or how embarrassing or frustrating or anger-inducing they can be) there's a reason for the outburst. Just imagine what your kid must be feeling when they're acting out, because as tough as it is on you, I guarantee you it's equally if not more tough on them. There are multiple reasons why a kid throws a fit; reasons that definitely surpass, "They just want to drive me clinically insane, one terrible tantrum at a time." Because your kid's brain isn't fully developed, their communication skills are lacking and their reality can be perplexing and acting out irrationally can seem like, well, the only rational way to go.
Which is why attempting to understand what your kid is trying to tell you when they're acting out, is paramount. In order to get to the core of the tantrum, and sufficiently end it in a healthy, calm and supportive way, you have to try to figure out what your kid is trying to tell you. In some instances, your toddler's tantrum could be an attempt to tell you these nine things so, you know, big, deep breath mom. It'll all be over soon.
Kids are incapable of thinking logically, so what we would consider "normal" or at least understandable, can be scary or confusing for them. For example, an adult knows that the shower drain won't swallow them up and send them to the other end of the world via the sewer system, but a toddler doesn't. Their inability acquire object permanence and other developmental milestones, will keep them in a constant state of confusion.
Because your kid is confused, they're probably, more often than not, scared. The inability to completely understand your environment gives way to anxiety and panic. When your child is unable to explain what they're afraid of, or why they're afraid of it, they'll act out as a way of getting your attention; ensuring that even if you're mildly upset, you'll at least be there.
It turns out, for a toddler, acting out irrationally is as normal a biological response to frustration and anger, just like yawning is to fatigue. They're frontal lobe (responsible for controlling logic, reasoning, planning, judgment, self-control, and emotional processing) is underdeveloped, which is why tantrums are an inevitable thing. That's why you can, usually, time and schedule a toddler tantrum down to the second. You know how long they'll scream, then how long they'll cry, then how long they'll sit in a corner or lay on the ground, before repeating the emotionally-taxing process.
They Don't Understand You Or What You've Said
The development of abstract or symbolic thought starts around kindergarten, although it can obviously vary depending on the kid. Until then, your child may have a tough time understand exactly "why" you've said something or decided something or insisted on something. You can be as rational, abstract, detailed or stern as possible and still, your kid just might not be able to completely grasp the concepts you're attempting to communicate.
They're In Pain
It's easy to tell if your kid is in pain when they fall down, skin their knee or have an external injury. But when your kid can't speak and is suffering from an ear-infection, incoming and painful molars, or some other internal pain, it's almost impossible to know they're hurting. Yes, different cries mean different things and most parents learn their kid's cries so that they can respond accordingly, but sometimes it's just difficult to know what is ailing your kid when they can't point and tell you themselves.
Again, it's difficult to know what your kid is feeling when they're lacking the communication skills to just up and tell you. A newborn should be fed up to and at least nine times a day, sometimes every 90 minutes to two hours. A toddler should be eating three solid meals a day, with two to three snacks in-between. However, it's extremely common for toddlers to skip meals, which can send a parent into somewhat of an irrational spiral of fear and worry.
Fatigue can account for some utterly horrific toddler tantrums, and are definitely a sign that your kid is tired and needs to either sleep or take a nap. These outbursts normally happen around what would be a nap/sleep time. Setting up a nap schedule and ensuring that your kid has an "age appropriate" bedtime can help combat exhaustion tantrums but, hey, we all get tired every now and then.
They're Attempting To Adjust To A Change
Emotional overload can occur when your kid experiences a drastic change, like moving, a divorce, changing schools, the loss of a friend/classmate/family member, etc. Let's be honest, big changes are difficult for adults to handle, so just imagine what a toddler and/or adolescent brain thinks of one of life's seismic shifts. The good news is, research suggests that there are successful ways in which you can guide your kid through change, and through a tantrum, to help them better cope with their altered environment.
And, You Know, They're A Kid
Of course, at the end of the day, it's important to remember that your kid is just a kid. They lack the skill set, knowledge and biological development to handle the wide variety of relentless emotions that come along with being a human being. Maybe they're just in a bad mood, and simply haven't figured out how to deal with those feelings. I mean, I have those days at least twice a week, so when your kid is throwing a tantrum, it's best to try and understand why they're acting out, instead of attempting to combat their behavior with anger and frustration (as difficult as that can, sometimes, be).