The Early Years: Understanding your toddler’s tantrums

The Early Years: Understanding your toddler’s tantrums

If parents have unrealistic expectations or low expectations, lack of consistency in what they tell the child and lack of child development knowledge and understanding, their parenting style can send confusing messages.

parenting tips, parenting style, tantrums
Learn to understand your child’s tantrums. (Source: Getty Images)

By Abha Ranjan Khanna

In this concluding article in the series of three, on understanding toddlers’ tantrums the focus is on medical and physical issues, along with parenting issues.

When very young children have frequent medical issues such as lung infections, fever, flu, ear infections or tummy upsets, behaviour problems may include decreased ability to focus and learn due to pain, discomfort and side-effects of any prescribed medications. Invasive or painful procedures may result in trauma and lead to behaviour issues mentioned in earlier articles.

Side-effects of medications can lead to an unusual increase in activity levels, increased aggressive behaviour, headaches and problems with dentition that can lead to feeding difficulties, increased drowsiness and/or sleeplessness.


The above result in inattention and lack of focus, frequent screaming and inconsolable crying, withdrawal from social activity, lack of motivation and difficulties with feeding and other normal daily routines.

Parents will need to be patient and will have to identify the best time of the day for different activities. Parents can use activities such as listening to music, stories and looking at picture books that the child may find calming. The child may need stimulating activities at other times like playing with bubbles and balloons if they display withdrawal or lack of motivation.

Parents may need to understand problematic side effects of medication and discuss them with the paediatrician to find appropriate answers and strategies to deal with the issues. Parents may also need to consult a dietician if feeding difficulties start to interfere with appropriate physical and motor development.

If sleep appears to be a problem then calming bedtime routines such as soft dim lights, calming music or singing, gentle rocking and humming can be tried.

The final area that can become a cause of toddler tantrums and difficult behaviours are parenting issues. Why do certain parenting issues lead to difficult toddler behaviours? If parents have unrealistic expectations or low expectations, lack of consistency in what they tell the child, ineffective or overly harsh consequences and lack of child development knowledge and understanding, their parenting style can give the child unclear and confusing messages.

The above mentioned parenting issues can trigger anxiety, aggression, withdrawal, defiance and tantrums. Parents could reach out to developmental therapists, early interventionists or child psychologist to discuss these issues. Anticipatory guidance can help parents understand typical and atypical child development such that they can understand the non verbal needs of their toddlers.

Mindful parenting to identify inconsistencies in parenting and being able to identify which consequences are detrimental, harsh and harm for the social emotional inner self of the child is very important. The important learning in this is that parent behaviour and interaction can result in toddler difficulties and tantrums.

Thus, underlying frustrations due to difficulties in verbal expression, the need for independence and environmental exploration, impulsivity, high energy levels and environmental factors can lead to behaviour issues. Mindful parenting, nurturance and tender loving care can successfully overcome these developmental hurdles.

(The writer is an occupational therapist.)