8 tot-tantrum triggers (and why)

Your little one is not deliberately trying to drive you insane — we interpret 8 behaviours for you…


Tantrums arise when your kid is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable; or because they can't get something (for example, an object) they want. Learning to deal with frustration is a skill that children gain over time.

Children aged around 2 usually throw tantrums as their language skills are starting to develop. Because toddlers can't yet express how they feel, what they want or need, their frustrations can turn into a meltdown. Here's help on handling these situations.

1) She throws her cup at you. Or puts her favourite doll in the dustbin.

Where she’s at
“Admit it, Mum, it is hilarious to watch my mug of milk go flying through the air. And your expression after is even better.”
Where you need to be
Toddlers don’t understand consequences and only operate in the now. “When your tot flings her toy out of the car window, she does it because she doesn’t want it right at that moment,” explains psychologist Dr Sandra Wheatley. “That doesn’t mean she won’t cry for it later.” It’s frustrating, but be patient and teach her about consequences. Explain that, if she throws teddy on the filthy bus floor, Ted will be put in Mummy’s handbag because he’s dirty and she cannot play with him any more.

2) He’s quietly doing something and screams when you carry him off to take a bath to get ready to go out.

Where he’s at
“Finally, a few moments with my fave toy and now you’re trying to force my limbs into clothing. Back off!”
Where you need to be
With no sense of time, but an endless capacity to be distracted, it takes immense effort to get out of the house. “Toddlers are curious, which means anything is fascinating,” child psychologist Sarah Steel says. “Explain that playgroup starts soon and you don’t want him to miss painting.”

“If it doesn’t involve too much waste — of your money or time — sometimes it’s okay to follow her request.”

3) She throws a tantrum at breakfast because you cut her toast into triangles yesterday and she WANTS TRIANGLES NOW.

Where she’s at
“Yesterday, you won me over with those kite-shaped pieces but now we’re back to unimaginative rectangles — as if it never happened.”
Where you need to be
Kids work visually, so explaining that her food tastes the same whether in triangles or squares is a waste of time. “Pick your battles,” says Dr Wheatley. “If it doesn’t involve too much waste — of your money or time — sometimes it’s okay to follow her request.”

4) He played well with the other kid — and then suddenly threw a massive hissy fit. What happened?

Where he’s at
“First, she’s welcomed into my home and fed my special snacks, now she’s got my best toys. Enough already.”
Where you need to be
Children are territorial, particularly between the ages of 2 and 3 when they’re learning about ownership. “Make it clear that the toys belong to your child and he just needs to share them temporarily,” Dr Wheatley says. Pre-select some he might like to show off to his playmates (and consider putting treasured ones away).


5) She was happily playing at the playground/sandpit/ballpit/toy area at the restaurant and now is shrieking.

Where she’s at
“Every time I find something fun to do, it’s snatched away from me. Well, I’ve had enough. I’m going to lie on the floor and yell.”
Where you need to be
When you go to the park, it feels like she throws the worst tantrum when it comes to an end. “This is normal,” Dr Wheatley assures us. “Keep your cool and explain that it’s time to go.” Think of something enjoyable to do once you’re home, such as painting, so it’s less of a trauma.

6) He insists on wearing that yellow-and-purple Bob the Builder T-shirt with the orange shorts and puppy-head bedroom slippers. No. Just…

Where he’s at
“Imagine how you’d like to have your clothes picked out for you every morning. Yeah, not fun is it?”
Where you need to be
“How he dresses will be one of the ways your toddler expresses individuality while his language develops,” Dr Wheatley points out. To make him feel empowered, divide clothes into groups. Tell him he has clothes for nursery, special days and rainy weather, then let him select within each category.

“Your toddler loves putting his stamp on his surroundings; but explain that no one draws on the walls.”

7) She won’t stay in bed. No matter how many times you put her “to sleep”…

Where she’s at
“I know it’s bedtime, but I’ve always wondered what you guys get up to. And, with my new bed, I can climb right out.”
Where you need to be
When your tot moves from the cot to a bed, it’s a new world of freedom. “It’s best to make the move when your child is communicating well, so you can chat about it,” notes baby-sleep expert Jo Tantum. If she keeps getting out of bed, take her straight back and sit with her for a few minutes until she’s relaxed.

8) He’s drawn on the walls. Again. In crayon and with paint — where did he get paint? — and did he spill it on the carpet? O. M. G.

Where he’s at
“You’re always giving me paper and crayons, but when I seize the initiative and redecorate your blank wall, it’s a different story?”
Where you need to be
“Your toddler loves putting his stamp on his surroundings,” says Dr Wheatley. “But explain that no one draws on the walls.” You could paint part of your kitchen with blackboard paint, so that he has an area he can decorate, that can be wiped off for his next masterpiece. Or show him that his paper creations can be hung up on the wall (Blu-Tack is your best friend).

Photos: iStock

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