The Early Years: Why does your child throw a tantrum?

The Early Years: Why does your child throw a tantrum?

Make sure you have your child's attention before speaking with him/her. This is easily done by sitting in front of the child and looking at his/her eyes while using their name.

angry kids, parenting tips
Kids can be difficult to control at an early age. (Source: Getty Images)

(This is the second part of Understanding Your Child’s Tantrums. Read the first part here.)

By Abha Ranjan Khanna

Toddlers have the ability to go-go-go! Their high energy level along with increasing physical motor developmental, allows them to explore their curiosity and test limits as their world expands. Because they are still developing executive function, this can often lead to tantrums and behaviour issues.

The four components of the cognitive domain are part of a cognitive process called Executive Function, which refers to “a group of skills that helps us to focus on multiple streams of information at the same time, monitor errors, make decisions in light of available information, revise plans as necessary, and resist the urge to let frustration lead to hasty actions” (The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, Working Paper 11).

The building blocks to executive function are skills developed over time, starting as early as the first year of life. Following is information and examples to help parents learn how to support their child’s development of executive function skills.

Three building blocks for executive function are:


· Working memory, which includes the ability to follow multiple-step instructions; joint attention and taking turns in group activities.

· Inhibitory control, which makes the following possible-selective, focused and sustained attention.

· Cognitive flexibility, which includes the ability to switch gears and adjust to changed demands.

The cognitive development domain includes four components describing how young children develop and demonstrate abilities:

· Exploring the world around them

· Solving problems

· Remembering and retaining information

· Pretending and using their imagination

A new evidence base has identified executive function skills as being essential for school achievement, success in work and healthy lives. If a child displays executive function problems, he/she may experience reduced ability to connect consequences to behaviour; difficulty focussing; difficulty with transitions from one activity to another and difficulty with listening attention and processing auditory information.

The behaviours a parent may observe can include inattention; refusal to follow rules; lack of awareness of safety issues; aggression; hyperactivity; impulsivity and difficulty socializing with other children.

The strategies that can assist parents address these behaviours and help their child develop executive function skills include:

· Making sure they have their child’s attention before speaking with him/her. This is easily done by sitting in front of the child and looking at his/her eyes while using their name.

· Identifying appropriate activities for their child’s high energy levels. These could include regular visits to a park, playing with balls and balloons, doing summersaults riding tricycles and play wheelbarrow walks.

· For older children, play games that reinforce paying attention and not acting on impulse.

· Pair spoken information or instructions with visual cues. For example, parents can show the child a picture of a child brushing their teeth while telling the child that they will now be brushing their teeth.

· Make sure consequences are immediate and of a short duration. For example, if you tell your child that he/she cannot play with his toys if he does not put his shoes in the right place then withhold the toys till he/she follows through with your request, then immediately let her/him play with the toys.


Do continue to watch The Early Years space as we conclude information and strategies on behaviour issues in toddlerhood. The next article will include behaviour issues as a result of physical and medical conditions and parenting issues.

(The writer is an occupational therapist.)