It happened again. It always does.
My toddler (kid #4) has started to respond to the word “no” with a full-on head back, mouth open, scream-cry mixture.
As parents we hear a phrase that tends to sum up what we experience when our kids are little:
The Terrible Twos OR The Terrible Threes.
Many moms have a strong opinion on which is more accurate. It just depends on your child. But personally, I feel it hits right around two-and-a-half.
Your sweet, happy-go-lucky infant turns into this little person with opinions and big emotions.
My son is a couple of months away from turning three. And boy does he have opinions! Sorry, buddy, snack time does not fall in the middle of dinner. We’ll keep working on helping you understand that.
Why Do Kids Have Tantrums?
Although it may feel frustrating at times, a toddler that is learning independence is a very good thing. They are developing both physically and emotionally. It’s important to support them and help them express their big emotions in a healthy manner, not suppress or ignore them.
But sometimes the reason behind the toddler tantrums goes deeper than exploring emotions in an age-appropriate manner.
A child’s tantrum is a sign of something deeper. The problem is your child does not have the capacity to verbally express how he or she is feeling in the moment. So they let it out in other ways.
Are Toddler Tantrums a Behavior Problem?
If you have a child in the one to three age range you are in luck! No, really. You have the opportunity to guide your child through this phase, teaching him or her how to both feel and express emotions.
Often times this is when parents start using the dreaded “time out” as a way to punish a young child for expressing emotions in a child-like way. This only teaches a child that it is not acceptable to share what they are feeling or that you can’t handle their feelings.
Then, as the child gets older, they will start finding other ways to express their emotions. This is when behavior problems arise.
It does not mean your child is “bad” or being defiant. It means they have not learned how to feel big feelings and then release them in a healthy way.
Get to the Root Cause of Toddler Tantrums
This is why it is imperative to help your toddler express emotions from the start. Help them understand you are there and it is safe to tell you how they feel without shame or punishment.
Helping your toddler express emotions is step one. Now it’s time to dig deeper.
Could you be setting your child up for meltdowns? Where are these seemingly out-of-control feelings stemming from in the first place?
There are five common reasons that toddlers have tantrums. Thankfully all five have simple solutions!
Top Reasons Toddlers Have Tantrums
1. Blood Sugar Imbalance
Blood sugar imbalance is at the top of the list when it comes to tantrums. Though you may lovingly call this symptom “hangry.” If a toddler has not eaten in a while or if he or she has only eaten sweets recently, blood sugar is dropping rapidly.
This turns on the body’s alarm system. Warning, warning. We need food (i.e. glucose), stat! In the meantime, your toddler is not able to think clearly or make rational decisions. Enter the tantrum.
You can remedy or completely avoid this toddler tantrum scenario by feeding your child balanced meals and snacks with a combination of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates with fiber. Only serve sweets with other food or skip them altogether.
If your child has hangry meltdowns frequently, be aware that it will take time to regulate blood sugar. It takes balanced snacks and meals day-in and day-out for the body to be able to handle long stretches without food or extra sugar here and there. So don’t give up if the meltdowns aren’t gone immediately.
2. Lack of Sleep
If food is number one, sleep is number two. Lack of sleep is a big deal for a toddler. They need more sleep than an adult or an older sibling.
A consistent sleeping routine is also critical. Skipping naps for activities and staying up late on the weekends or for celebrations can lead to problems quickly. It also creates a sleep deficit.
The body does a lot of work while sleeping. This is when your child does most of his or her growing. This is when the body repairs.
Sleep is also when your child’s brain processes all those big emotions in a safe way.
If your toddler has been throwing tantrums, make sure he or she gets adequate sleep. Especially during a growth spurt or a developmental leap.
The world can be a scary place for little ones. Especially in this culture of faceless people, avoidance of germs, and fear-inducing journalism. There are a lot of things that can cause anxiety in young kids. But without the maturity to express it well, it comes out as an outburst.
If Mom or Dad struggles with anxiety, the chances of kids feeling anxious significantly increases as well.
It is important to be aware of the language you use around toddlers. The other day my toddler said something “makes me nervous.” I don’t think he actually used it in the right context. But it was an eye-opener to me. And even though whatever he was talking about was sort of silly, I still made sure to talk to him about it.
Let kids know it is okay to tell you what is troubling them. Then help rephrase it so they can learn to put words to their feelings. When anxiety is dealt with, it won’t lead to tantrums.
4. Mineral Imbalance
Let’s dig a little deeper yet. Mood and behavior issues often stem from a mineral imbalance or a nutrient deficiency.
Take a look at your toddler’s diet. Does it consist of roast beef, butter, and cauliflower…or boxed chicken nuggets, ice cream, and fruit snacks?
Even if your kids eat pretty well there can still be a mineral imbalance. We live in a world where most of the nutrients have been stripped from the soil. So even healthy foods often don’t contain adequate nutrients.
Eating the same few foods over and over can also cause a mineral imbalance.
This creates an imbalance in the entire body…leading to dysfunction and mood disorders. In other words, toddler tantrums.
Make sure your toddler is eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense food to provide the building blocks for good health.
Not sure how to do that? Wondering if there is an imbalance? Struggling to get your kids to eat anything green? As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and feeding expert, I love helping parents do just that! Learn more about my Food Last approach to picky eating and mineral balancing HERE.
5. Food Reaction
Sometimes food is actually the problem. If your toddler is reacting to a certain food, he or she will not feel good. This leads to tantrums as well.
Think about how you act when you don’t feel good. If your stomach hurts are you chipper and upbeat? Or are you grouchy and tired?
If you think your child could be reacting to a food, try eliminating it and see if his or her mood and physical health improves. You may need to have your child tested for food allergies or work with a practitioner that caters to special diets.
Just be aware that some common kid foods like milk, yogurt, crackers, bread, cereal, eggs, and peanut butter could be the source of your toddler’s tantrums.
RELATED: Prevent and Reverse Picky Eating for Your Toddler
Solve Your Toddler’s Tantrums
Thankfully toddlers are pretty easy to handle. Sometimes they just need your attention or they need to be redirected to something they can do instead of focusing on something they can’t.
For my son, all it takes most of the time is saying something silly and getting him to laugh. He forgets whatever it was that he thought he needed.
But sometimes the tantrums are a sign of something a bit deeper. Your toddler does not usually have the ability to articulate the problem. He or she just knows how to express anger, frustration, anxiety, or pain through a more uncontrolled outpouring of emotion. (Note that even a young child can learn to listen to his or her body if given the tools early enough – check out my son’s story HERE.)
So you need to get to the heart of the problem for them. Do a little detective work. Then find the appropriate solution to solve your toddler’s tantrums, whether it’s a healthy snack, a nap, targeted nutrition, or something as simple as a hug and reading a book together.
It just so happened that the week I wrote this post we had a triple whammy with my toddler. We had done a trial of dairy in his diet. It didn’t go so well, which meant he wasn’t feeling great due to a food reaction. On top of that, I made the mistake of letting him have just something sweet before bed a couple of times. So he was waking up in the night due to a blood sugar crash. This, in turn, led to a lack of sleep for both of us. Major fatigue. I bet you can guess what his mood was like.
That is three out of five of the top toddler tantrum triggers in one week! We were both exhausted!!
But I knew the source of his meltdowns and remedied it quickly to allow my son to feel his best.
Don’t dread the “Terrible Twos.” Embrace them and help your toddler navigate this phase of development with support, encouragement, healthy food, and adequate sleep. Then watch the tantrums transform into smiles.
3 thoughts on “Why Do Kids Have Tantrums? Top 5 Reasons for Toddler Tantrums”
Absolutely! I completely agree. There are a variety of tools in the parenting, relationship-building, adult-raising tool bag.
This article had many good points about the physical needs of children and making sure those are addressed. It also poses a very good point about not teaching our kids to suppress their emotions, but rather learn to express them in the proper manner.
I want to add something for you parents out there who are struggling, particularly if reading about parenting approaches that contradict yours makes you feel guilty or inadequate. Because we parents are not robots, we too experience heightened emotions during toddler tantrums. We too are fatigued, distracted by the necessities of life, and doing the best we can with the myriad of contradictory information out there. Please don’t let guilt drive your parenting. IT IS OKAY to step away from your child to get your own self under control. Your child’s future ability to express himself and have a healthy relationship will NOT be damaged by your putting him in a designated safe place while you calm down elsewhere. Some of my little ones have NEEDED that time away from the stimuli AND from the target for their lashing out (me being that target) in order to calm down. If you’re feeling the frenzy, it’s okay and sometimes best to step away for a moment. No guilt!
Thanks for saying this, Christy! As parents we need to model what is the right thing to do when you’re overwhelmed by your feelings. It isn’t always the same thing–because sometimes you can’t step away as you can’t leave your child alone in public, you have to keep stirring food on the stove, etc.–sometimes you need to model deep breathing, covering ears from the loud noise, or other coping strategies instead of giving yourself a time-out. But time-out is a lot more effective for children if it’s something they see you doing for yourself rather than only something that’s imposed upon them. It’s also important to show what we do AFTER time-out to resolve the conflict and move along.