Tantrums are a normal part of toddlerhood. They are your toddler’s way of expressing big emotions that they don’t know how to handle yet. However, some tantrums may be a sign of an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Here is some guidance on when you should be concerned about your toddler’s tantrums.
Most toddlers will throw tantrums occasionally – a few times per week is common. However, if your toddler is having frequent, daily meltdowns, this could indicate an issue. Frequent tantrums can be exhausting and stressful for both you and your child.
Look at the frequency of tantrums. If they are happening multiple times per day, nearly every day, consult your pediatrician. Frequent tantrums may be a sign of an underlying condition such as:
- Sensory processing disorder
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Frustration related to a developmental delay
Your doctor can help determine if there is a medical cause and recommend treatment options.
Typical toddler tantrums are short – usually less than 5 minutes from start to finish. However, prolonged tantrums may be problematic.
Pay attention to how long your child’s meltdowns last. Tantrums over 10-15 minutes or tantrums that seem endless are excessive for a toddler. Exceedingly long tantrums can be related to:
- Difficulty with self-regulation
- Speech and language delays – inability to communicate needs
- Rigidity/difficulty with transitions
If your toddler regularly has tantrums that go on and on, discuss it with your child’s doctor. They can evaluate whether behavioral therapy, speech therapy or other interventions may help.
Most toddler tantrums are triggered by routine events like getting dressed, mealtimes, bedtime, transitions or not getting what they want. But if you notice your child has meltdowns in response to strange triggers, it could signal a medical or psychological issue.
Take note of what seems to set your toddler off. Unusual triggers may include:
- Normal noises or lights
- Being touched unexpectedly
- New environments/people
Sensory sensitivities, anxiety about unfamiliar situations, or conditions like autism can lead to atypical tantrum triggers. Let your pediatrician know if your child has extreme reactions to normal sensory input or new experiences.
Inability to Recover
After a tantrum, most toddlers are able to move on and resume normal activity. But in some cases, kids have difficulty recovering emotionally and getting back to a stable state.
Pay attention to how your child acts after a tantrum. If they have trouble calming down, seem stuck in sadness/anger, or zone out, it could signal an underlying problem. Inability to self-regulate may be related to:
- Depression or trauma
- Anxiety disorder
Make an appointment with your pediatrician if intense emotions linger long after meltdowns. Lingering distress can disrupt your child’s functioning and interfere with learning.
Most toddler tantrums involve behaviors like screaming, crying, stomping feet or throwing objects. But consistently aggressive behavior is problematic.
Take note if your child often exhibits aggression during meltdowns, like:
- Hitting you or siblings
- Throwing toys directly at people
- Destroying property
If tantrums involve harm toward you, other people or pets, seek help. Consistent aggression can indicate conditions like oppositional defiant disorder. It’s important to curb aggressive behavior before it becomes ingrained.
You should be able to eventually calm your toddler with validation and reassurance. But if your child is extremely inconsolable no matter what you try, it could point to an underlying issue.
Attempt to comfort your child during and after meltdowns. Make note if your toddler:
- Can’t be distracted or redirected
- Doesn’t respond to soothing touch/words
- Continues sobbing uncontrollably
- Requires your constant, undivided attention
Inability to be consoled may be linked to separation anxiety, sensory processing issues or developmental disorders. Discuss it with your child’s doctor.
Persistence Despite Consequences
Most toddlers learn to curb tantrum behavior if it results in consistent consequences. But some have persistent meltdowns even when they know it means loss of privileges.
Pay attention to whether your child throws tantrums even when they know it means:
- Removal from the situation
- Loss of a preferred toy or activity
- Time out
- Missing out on something desired
If consequences don’t diminish meltdowns, it could indicate attention issues, oppositional behavior, or speech/developmental lags. Consult your pediatrician or a child psychologist.
When in Doubt, Call Your Pediatrician
As a general rule of thumb, discuss any tantrum behaviors with your pediatrician that happen consistently and cause dysfunction in your child or family. While tantrums are expected at this age, excessive behavior can signal underlying issues.
Don’t hesitate to call your doctor if you have concerns. Early intervention is key for addressing developmental delays, psychological conditions and sensory processing differences. Your pediatrician can put you on the right track to help your toddler regulate big emotions. With professional guidance, your child can learn constructive ways to express needs.