I think everyone who has a toddler can recall a time where their child has had a ‘meltdown’, ‘tantrum’, or shed tears over something seemingly insignificant.
You gave them the wrong coloured plate with their lunch. They wanted to button up their own jacket. Or maybe they couldn’t catch the ball that was thrown to them.
An example recently from my daughter was when she wailed before bedtime that she wanted her Wiggles balloon. She hadn’t seen the balloon in weeks, the concert was a month ago, and I explained this to her and explained how balloons deflate over time. It only intensified her cries.
Our Perception of a Tantrum
How we respond as a parent in these scenarios depends on how we ourselves are feeling at the time, and the perception we have of this ‘tantrum’.
If you view the tantrum as uncalled for, over the top, ‘silly’, and an overreaction, AND you are in a place of stress or frustration yourself, you may respond with anger. Maybe their tears and overwhelm provoke the same response in you, with your own feelings bubbling over. There can be an irritation that your child is acting ‘irrationally’.
Or if you’re in a regulated place yourself and perhaps you find this hilarious? Maybe you even whip out your phone to record it to send to your family or post on social media?
I get it. I’ve been in this place too where I’ve found it particularly funny that my daughter can get SO upset over something seemingly SO small (to me).
Shift Your Perspective on Tantrums
What I’d invite here though is a perspective shift.
A perspective shift helps you stop overreacting to your toddler or laughing at their emotional distress. It will also facilitate their emotional development, invite compassion, and deepen your connection with them.
This perspective shift is about recognizing that your toddler is rarely upset directly over the ‘thing’ that provoked their tears. This ‘thing’ is simply their trigger to release the deeper feelings that were already there.
Think of an equivalent being you’ve had a hard day at work or at home with your kids, and little annoyances, irritations, or upsets add up throughout the day. Each time something happens you ‘keep it together’. You deal with it and move on. You shake it off.
You swallow down the discomfort until something seemingly minor happens… then BAM. The annoyance, irritation, and upset burst out of you. Road rage is a perfect example of this. Something seemingly minor can set off a cascade of emotional reactions in somebody.
It’s the same process in our children. They experience upsets, difficulties, frustrations, and difficult feelings throughout their days. They don’t have the space, capacity, or support to express those emotions. So when they have their emotional outburst because of a seemingly ‘insignificant’ or ‘ridiculous’ trigger, the emotions bubbling over are deeper than they appear.
What Are The Tears Really About?
We can’t always know the reasons behind the feelings – although we can ponder them.
Perhaps when my daughter was so upset about her Wiggles balloon being gone she was releasing a deeply held feeling of loss and displacement? Of how hard it can be as a child when you lose something you love. When something is gone that you weren’t prepared to let go of. When you don’t get the chance to say ‘goodbye’.
Tears can be about their frustrations around not having a ‘choice’, not being able to exercise their autonomy or make decisions. Tears can be about grief and sadness around the changing of a relationship with their caregivers if a new sibling has come along. Tears can be about feeling unheard, lonely, frustrated. Any number of emotions.
Our little children can only process their emotions through tears, laughter, or play. They don’t have the language or the reflexivity to fully express and process their feelings through language. This is something that we as adults still struggle with, and we have fully developed brains!
What I Can Do Instead
The next time your toddler cries over something seemingly insignificant, listen to them. Support them the same way you would support a friend sharing their tears with you (even if you think their tears aren’t warranted).
You wouldn’t laugh at them, dismiss them, tell them to stop being ‘silly’, distract them, photograph them, or get angry at them. You would try to listen, empathise, show compassion, give them a hug, or just ‘be there’.
I know this is hard and I know we won’t be able to respond in this gentle way all of the time. But this is such meaningful work, holding space for them, making them feel safe, heard, and connected, and teaching them that all of their feelings are okay.
Check out my Transforming Toddler Tantrums Course if you’d like to learn more about:
- The real reasons why toddlers have tantrums
- How to release yourself from stress and guilt related to tantrums
- How your own emotional state relates to your child’s
- Strategies to not only support your toddler through their tantrum but help prevent the frequency of these outbursts
The course is just $44, takes only 15mins a day over 14 days to complete, and the first 5 to sign up also get 5 days of free one on one support. Sign up here.