news item: why toddlers freak out about EVERYTHING

If you have a toddler, or have spent more than 10 minutes with someone else’s toddler, you know that they are basically losing their sh*t all day long. Sure there are great times, signing, dancing, laughing. But there is also throwing of sippy cups, yelling of “No!” (From you and them.), and the general “the barometric pressure just dropped by .0001 degrees so I am now going to cry inconsolably for 20 minutes.”

It seems like these little beings just can’t hold it together very well, or aren’t even trying. And the fact is, that is exactly what they should be doing. Losing it, freaking out, throwing tantrums.

Melida Moyer writes for Slate magazine:

…toddlers’ irrational behaviors are a totally understandable reflection of their inner turmoil and frustrations. In sum, their world is turning upside down and they don’t yet have the skills to handle it. Tantrums don’t mean your kid is a spoiled brat or needs therapy; tantrums mean he is normal.

Moyer writes that developmentally a toddler cannot actually not freak out when little things don’t go their way. Their frontal lobes, the area needed for logic and non-freaking out skills, is underdeveloped.

What was very helpful to me was reading the explanation behind why toddlers throw tantrums when we tell them “no” for safety reasons, say taking a sharp object away from them:

When you say no, sweetie, you can’t have that butcher knife, your 20-month-old has no idea that you are depriving her of this awesomely shiny contraption for her own safety. “Since it’s the parent, whom they rely on for everything, who is taking it away, it’s perceived as a withdrawal of love, essentially… The pain that this causes, Lieberman says, is similar to what we might feel if our spouse betrays or cheats on us.”

I needed to read that. So that I remember it when my soon to be toddler is freaking out, I will remember that for her, this is really hard, and really hurtful. And that tantrums, are ok. Sometimes we all just need a good cry, but as adults we are socially expected to not scream and shout when things upset us. Toddlers don’t know such social norms, lucky them. Please read, Tantrums: Why Toddlers Freak Out About Everything, and let us know what you think:


Do you have a toddler? How’s that going? (ie, tantrums and such)

Any toddler wisdom you can share?

What do you think of the research behind toddler tantrums?

Does this change your view of how you react to tantrums? Why or why not?


  1. Oh my gosh, I needed this today! What great perspective. I have an 18 month old who has started throwing tantrums in the last month and they are hard for all of us. I always saw parents ignoring the tantrum, so as not to give in to it, but I read an article recently that makes me feel differently and want to approach my little girl’s tantrums in a new way.
    The article focuses on empathy. Talking through the frustration. Showing them you care. But also not giving in to the tantrum. I have done this for about 3/4 of the tantrums (the other 1/4 were at times where we were rushing to get to work) and it works most of the time.
    Thanks again for sharing this!

  2. Aww, this kind of makes me sad. I hate to think that taking something away from my daughter (even if it’s a dangerous object) completely shatters her world. This is good knowledge to have though and it has made me think about how I handle tantrums now. Thanks for sharing the article.

  3. I’m pretty sure I read this article a while back and it totally clicked for me. R looks at me with this horrible glossy eyes and a quivering lip when I take away the power cord or the bottle of tums. It used to break my heart when she would start screaming when I told her, “you can’t have that, how about this?” and then she would throw the “this” thing at me and go back for what she’s not allowed. This article really helped me forgive myself. R crying or throwing tantrums is just her way of processing. Eventually she’ll get it. It’s still hard when she looks up at me with those baby blues filled to the brim with tears, but I don’t feel like I’m doing her any damage. It definitely helped me adjust.

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s a great reminder that we’re actually doing OK as parents. 🙂

  4. LOVE this article! My toddler flies off the handle a lot! We have varying degrees of success at avoiding the total meltdowns. One thing that has helped us is that we “warn” him A LOT! We warn him when bed time is coming. We warn him if some part of his routine is going to be different today. We warn him if we’re getting ready to do something that’s made him throw a fit before. We remind him of what we expect from him. We remind him that good behavior is rewarded sometimes, but also it is just expected. Thanks for posting this!

    • Melissa, when we had a foster toddler we found this to work too. We warned about everything and also went over what we were going to do next, like “we’re going to eat breakfast, then clear our dishes, then brush our teeth and get ready for school” And we would continue to give him a ‘heads up’ throughout the day of what the next few activities were going to be. Seemed to really help him feel grounded.

  5. Great article! My two-year-old is generally very good-natured but when we take something away from him or say no, he definitely goes into tantrum mode. I knew this was pretty normal toddler behaviour but it’s interesting to read the reasons behind it. I think this will help me to be less frustrated by the foot stomping, toy throwing and lip quivering meltdowns that will inevitably continue to occur for this next little while!

  6. Talk about timing!!! Great article. It IS so hard sometimes to realize that they aren’t aware of what is going on and reading about the science behind the *throwing of their head into the wall for NO APPARENT REASON* haha.

  7. I shared this article with my husband a bit ago and it really gave us both a timely reminder to have empathy for our two toddlers in the midst of their meltdowns. A worthy read for anyone with a toddler for sure!


  1. […] wrote up a well timed news article on toddler tantrums entitled why toddlers freak out about everything. Check it out and put in your two cents! When did your child start to throw tantrums? How did you […]

%d bloggers like this: