What Toddler Tantrums Really Mean

Toddlers can sometimes seem like aliens to their parents. One minute, your toddler is playing happily with blocks, with a big smile on her face, and the next he’s throwing those blocks and screaming at the top of his lungs. What causes toddler emotions to go from zero to 60? While the answer depends on your individual child and circumstances of the moment, his development at different stages also has a lot to do with those tantrums.

Toddler Tantrums: Age Two

Your 2-year-old toddler is actually experiencing a sense of independence, and you will notice that your toddler wants to do things by himself. For example, he may not want to wear the clothes you choose, or he might resist bedtime, dinnertime or some particular toy. Your 2-year-old will express his temper tantrums in a myriad of ways: hitting, biting, fighting, crying, kicking. However, the central thread connecting the temper tantrums is your toddler’s desire to “do it by himself,” to get his way and resist control.

Toddler Tantrums: Age Three

Your 3-year-old is most likely less emotional and his tantrums will reflect that by occurring less often and with less intensity. On the other hand, because temper tantrums typically work, and give the child what he desires, it can become a reinforced tactic. The temper tantrum plays out in a similar dynamic at this age; arguing, kicking, screaming, hitting.

Toddler Tantrums: Age Four

By now, your 4-year-old has better language and motor skills, so he IS more independent. Your 4-year-old’s language capacity now allows him to tell you how he feels, what is on his mind, and why he’s angry. This allows your 4-year-old to collaborate with you by solving his issues, and when necessary, even compromising. Temper tantrums become more verbal at age four. For example, your 4-year-old may say, “I hate you.” Don’t take it to heart. He is limited in his ability to express himself, and doesn’t developmentally understand the word hate. Additionally, his better motor and physical skills allow him to throw things as well as hit others. Furthermore, your 4-year-old now possesses better motor skills to either run away from you or hide.

As frustrating as toddler tantrums can be, it is important to remember that your toddler is undergoing important developmental milestones during ages two to four. When tantrums happen, they are often age-appropriate and not deliberately meant to embarrass or harm you. However, it is also important to try your best to prevent toddler tantrums before they start, and then when they occur, handle them in ways that can help teach your child appropriate behavior. I’ll share some tips on taming toddler tantrums in my next blog post.