Why tantrums happen and how to stop them in their tracks

For parents, scary movies don't need zombies or spooky plot lines. Just start with a toddler who is throwing an epic tantrum in public for no apparant reason.

There are few things scarier than that.

While all kids have tantrums, they can feel isolating and impossible to manage for caregivers. But knowing that tantrums are completely normal and what may be causing them may remove some of the panic and fear.

Here are a few things you may not know about your child's tantrums.

Tantrums are often about communication.

Infants cry to communicate. As babies, crying is their only way of telling adults what they need. But when our children are small, they generally don't throw tantrums.

Most toddlers, on the other hand, throw tantrums often and for a wide variety of reasons. (And many make no sense to you.) But the reasons often begin with an inability to communicate.

"Tantrums are perfectly normal," says Jen Best, certified family life educator with Iowa State University Extension. "I'd be more worried if kids don't ever have temper tantrums."

At this age, kids still have trouble communicating fluently with adults, so they can feel misunderstood and frustrated. The tantrums that happen aren't always logical to us, but can feel vitally important to toddlers.

Start with basic needs.

So, your child feels misunderstood? (Don't we all?) Where do you go from there?

Remember when your growing toddler was a tiny infant? If you are like many caregivers, you likely thought about these three questions when crying happened:

  1. Is my child hungry?

  2. Is my child tired?

  3. Does my child need changed?

Even though your toddler may seem well beyond these simple questions, they are often the most important issues to consider.

Tantrums still stem from these three issues - toddlers get hungry and overly tired. (Hello, missed naptime.) And many are still wearing diapers that need changing.

Help your child deal with emotions.

It would be a disservice to your child to simply respond to their tantrums without teaching them ways to manage their own emotions.

"Children are not born knowing how to be frustrated," Jen explains. "They are learning skills."

So this means that when your kids throw a tantrum, they are giving you the opportunity to help with their own emotional intelligence.

Tantrums are an ideal time to teach kids the best ways to deal with their own emotions as well as develop empathy for others. (And high levels of emotional intelligence can help your child succeed in a wide variety of ways.)

Tantrums get kids what they want.