Elizabeth Nelson, M.S. LMHP
Temper tantrums are a common and developmentally appropriate occurrence for toddlers. They can occur for a variety of reasons, but one primary cause of tantrums is a mismatch between your child's desire for independence and his or her physical abilities. The toddler years are characterized by a developmental phase that includes an increasing need for autonomy.
Your child wants to do everything for himself (except for the things you want him to do). Unfortunately, the development of your child's motor skills cannot keep up with the need for independence. Toddlers are just not physically capable of doing all the things they want to do. For example, they may desire to dress themselves, yet fastening buttons and snaps is beyond the capacity of their little fingers. This is a recipe for frustration. To top it off, your child's vocabulary and emotional expression are not yet fully developed enough to allow them to calmly communicate the source of their frustration.
There are other factors that may trigger or contribute to tantrums. These include, but are not limited to, hunger, tiredness, being given an instruction, being denied a request, and the need for attention. Although parents cannot control all of these variables, toddlers will be better equipped to handle daily upsets in life if they are well rested, their tummies are full, and they are receiving enough attention.
It is not possible to prevent all tantrums in toddlers, nor would a parent want to prevent all tantrums from occurring. Tantrums are your child's way of learning how to calm down in the face of frustration. Nonetheless, some preventative measures can go a long way to helping keep tantrums manageable.