Tantrums are part of a child's development. They express the frustration the child can't explain. Understanding the reasons for tantrums can help.

Parents may expect tantrums to begin later in their child’s development, linking them to a stage sometimes called the ‘terrible twos’. However, toddlers’ developing independence is growing stronger in this second year, and they may be starting to show their disapproval in a variety of ways — most of which are normal for this stage.

Tantrums express what kids can’t say

Most toddlers don’t have enough language to tell parents about their frustrations, but they don’t have any trouble showing that they feel bad. To show they’re not happy with some of the decisions their parents or others make on their behalf, they might cry, scream, bite, throw, scratch or pinch.

In the Tākai booklet The Tricky Bits (pages 4 and 5) it says, ‘Don’t feel like you’ve failed when your child has a tantrum – it’s normal and OK. It’s how you handle it that counts.’

Ask whānau:

  • What does your child do when they can’t have something they want?
  • Have you seen the beginnings of a tantrum?
  • What did your child do?
  • What did you do?
  • What was their reaction to that?
  • What about a full-scale meltdown?
  • What did you do?
  • What did your child do?
  • Are there any changes you’d like to make in how you handle it next time?

Understanding the reasons for tantrums

Tantrums are more likely when a toddler is tired, hungry, uncomfortable, bored or overstimulated. Yes — even too much excitement or activity can be overwhelming. However, some tantrums can be avoided if parents are tuned into their toddler and their unmet need. Is it a need for sleep, food or a cuddle?

Sometimes if parents are tuning into other things like phones, television or their mates, they may miss what their toddler needs. If throwing a tantrum becomes the only way they get heard, tantrums can become their child’s ‘go to’ solution.

  • Can you remember your child’s most recent tantrum?
  • Where were you?

Public tantrums can be more frustrating or embarrassing for parents and can get them more worked up.

  • When you think back on it now, what might have been the main cause?
  • What were you doing before it started?
  • Who was around?
  • Is there anything you would do differently next time?

Read the articles on Social and emotional development (13–18 months) and Managing stress for help on this topic.

How does this relate to Tākai resources?

Baby wall friezeWhakarangatiratia ahau – Make me feel special

Six things children need Te ārahi me te māramatanga – Guidance and understanding

Helpful resources for whānau