When To Worry About Tantrums & Meltdowns in the Toddler Years

When To Worry About Tantrums & Meltdowns in the Toddler Years

If you worry that your child’s tantrums might be signs of Autism or a developmental disorder, please know that outbursts are actually normal.

Here’s a guide for understanding what is normal and not so normal about tantrums and when you should be seeking help because of epic meltdowns.

Most children have tantrums and emotional outbursts during the toddler years.

Tantrums can also happen when children are three or four years old, and even later.

Many parents worry about tantrums and fear that big, exagerrated Tantrums might be signs of Autism or another developmental disorder.

Tantrums and emotional outbursts are actually normal

Tantrums are typically the way your child releases big feelings. This can be frustration, sadness, tiredness or hunger. While sometimes avoidable, often tantrums just really happen in a blink of the eye.

Your toddler can’t keep it together, whines, cries and screams for a bit.

This can be a completely normal part of child development.

You can expect that most children will have a tantrum at some point, if not many, as tantrums are just expressions of overwhelm, frustration and other big emotions.

Self-regulation and Stopping Tantrums

Throwing a tantrum is part of learning to control impulses and developing self-control.

When you co-regulate with your child, meaning you offer them calm reasssurance as they tantrum, you are actively teaching your child that they are safe, and they will be able to calm down.

A quick way to stop or reduce tantrums is to understand that tantrums require less worry from you and more active participation. Tuning into your child and helping them calm down is much more effective than tryint to punish a tantrum away.

If you are not sure how to stop tantrums & meltdowns, you can get help from a professional childcare assistant. If you have some experience in this field, here you find some job opportunities for a childcare assistant

Instead of trying to discipline a child during a tantrum, aim to understand and support them until they have finished crying.

Healthy children don’t throw tantrums to bother adults. They do it because they cannot yet control their own impulses and self-regulate.

It’s an emotional process not naughty behavior.

man carrying child
Photo by Ba Phi on Pexels.com

Sometimes children also hit, kick, bite and bang things during a tantrum.

Causes for your child’s tantrum could be:

  • being scared
  • frustrated
  • tired (skipped nap, out of sleep rythm)
  • hungry
  • confused
  • uncomfortable (wet nappy, itchy tag)
  • overstimulated (tv, ipad, loud noices)

When to worry about Tantrums

The toddler brain is incredible, it is learning new words, new social skills, each and every day at an incredible speed. Still your toddler is “under construction” and therefore very immature and impulsive.

Research shows us that many parents set their expectations too high when it comes to toddler behaviors.

Because many parents observe their toddler being so capable and learning so much, they forget that sometimes toddlers just need to let some steam out, meltdown, stop and scream, or better yet just take a break.

If your toddler, three or four year old has a tantrum, it is not a sign that they are naughty, bad or spoiled.

You don’t have to worry about outbursts and tantrums unless…

  • Your child becomes extensively aggressive during a tantrum (throwing everything near / kicking with extreme force) each and every time they get upset.
  • Your child often hits their own head on the wall, ground, headboard, furniture and doesn’t seem to react to you trying to stop them
  • Your child has long recurring tantrums on a daily basis.
  • Tantrums happen each and every day, and last for more than 25 minutes at a time, no matter how you try to prevent it.
  • Your child is absolutely inconsolable no matter the kind of tantrum and the tears and desperation seem to go away at some point but not really because of what you did or didn’t do.
  • You feel so apprehensive about your child’s tantrums, you are planning your days and routines around how to best avoid anything that might upset your child.
  • Tantrums are affecting how your child eats, sleeps, dresses and plays.

What you need to know to stop worrying about tantrums:

Seven out of 10 Toddlers aged 18 to 24 months have daily, smallish to medium Tantrums.

Underlying clinical or developmental disorders are only present in one out of every 10 toddlers that throw severe, recurring, tantrums.

Here’s what you can do when you are super worried about your child’s tantrums:

1. Try doing less during your child’s tantrums:

A lot of children get worked up when they are in pain or frustrated.  We forget that they really can’t tune in to what we are saying.  It’s hard to cry, protest and scream all while trying to absorb your wise words for a teachable moment.

worried about tantrums

 Don’t worry about teaching during a tantrum. Say less. Listen more.

One morning  leaving toddler playgroup, my daughter wanted to bring home a Minnie mouse toy. It didn’t belong to her. Being just two years old at the time, that was just so incomprehensible to her. While I validated and acknowledged how wonderful the toy was, I also made it clear that the toy had to stay at playgroup.  My daughter cried for about a minute. Then she whimpered a bit more. I offered her a smile mixed with empathy and open arms. She climbed into my lap and three minutes or so after the tantrum was done.  All I had to do was listen. Then, she placed the toy on the shelf and we left hand in hand.

2. Know that Tantrums are a part of growing up:

Tantrums might be annoying but they are a normal, physiological and emotional reaction.

A lot of parenting advice talks about “how to stop tantrums” and to “ignore” tantrums.  

Letting your child feel her feelings and cry when they feel overwhelmed is vastly more helpful than making your child stop because it’s bothersome. Tantrums are often from our point of view completely uncessary, but to our child they are in that moment, absolutely needed to release pent up frustrations and fear.

The sooner we make peace with the idea that our child may at times have a tantrum, the easier it becomes to respond in a kind, calm and connected way.

It also teaches children that they can get upset and then move forward. 

3. Listening to a Tantrum is not the same as giving in:

You can listen to a tantrum and validate feelings and still keep your limit.

Listening and validating also gives your child words to fill up their emotional vocabulary, which is vital to developing emotional intelligence and self-regulation skills.

4. Make corrections in a connected and calm way:

I will not let you kick me.” Is enough to make it clear that the tears can go on, but that hurting you is not acceptable.  Lecturing on and on as the child cries and tried to hurt you will only escalate the tantrum.

5. Be Confident and Calm

It may be tempting to redirect or bribe your child to stop tears. Under most circumstances, it’s best to avoid that.

Strive to accept your child’s feelings. Next, show faith in both your child and the limit that you have set.

If you don’t believe in that limit, then your child has no reason to respect it either.

Keeping clear limits isn’t the same as being rigid or inflexible. It’s about being calm and confident in your guidance.

When we negotiate endlessly, you send mix messages. “No you can’t…oh wait…yes you can…I don’t know…” This attitude makes children anxious, nervous and more prone to tantrums.

Children also learn a lot from observing their trusted adults self-regulate too.  It’s ok if you need to walk away for a moment and calm yourself down as well.

Strive to keep appropriate expectations, meet your child’s needs and to use a positive and respectful approach to discipline.

Remember temper tantrums can be an opportunity to step in and show your child that you care about them.

Have you done all this on a consistent basis and the tantrums just don’t stop or get better?

Are tears, outbursts and tantrums interfering with your daily life and making you anxious ?

Do you feel like you have to walk on egg shells, say yes to everything your toddler demands?

Tantrums are exausting you and you aren’t sure what to try next?

Parent coaching can help you release your worries and better understand your child’s current development. We can talk about the red flags and specific situations and behaviors that are challenging. Clear up your worries, and figure out what is really needed for both you and your child to thrive:

Let’s chat! Check out my calendar for an appointment.

Peace & Be Well,


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

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