5 Perfectly Understandable Reasons For Toddler Tantrums


Toddlers. They’re sticky. They drip. They mess up our stuff. And they throw temper tantrums for no particular reason. Actually, that last one isn’t true. A lot of their tantrums make perfect sense. Why? Here are five reasons:

1. Rules. Infants get to do pretty much whatever they want, whenever they want. The same cannot be said for toddlers. Toddlers are expected to follow the rules. But there’s just one problem: They don’t know what most of the rules are. Most rules are discovered only AFTER they’ve been broken. You can’t draw on the sofa. Not even in a pretty color?! You shouldn’t throw sand. But it’s so lightweight?! You’re not supposed to bathe your doll in it the toilet. Ok. Got it. Next time, you’ll bathe the cat instead.

2. Time. Last month I went to the DMV to renew my driver’s license and, a few hours later, was told that I wouldn’t be seen. I was instructed to go home and come back another day. I wanted to throw a temper tantrum. I almost threw a temper tantrum. Okay. I sort of threw a temper tantrum. Toddlers don’t have to go to the DMV to have no control over their own schedules. And it must be maddening. Really enjoying playing with your train? Well, it’s time to stop. Having fun at the park? We’re leaving in five minutes. (Whatever five minutes is.)

3. Food. Mealtime for toddlers is a lot like eating in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and can’t read the menu. Most food is new and, therefore, strange. And some food – new or not – is downright scary. But with toddlers there’s an added twist, you get strapped into your chair when you eat. It’s not surprising that toddlers are picky eaters. It would only be surprising if they weren’t.

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4. Wisdom. Adults know they can’t get sucked down the bathtub drain, but toddlers do not. If you did think it was a possibility, you would probably hate baths. If you believed a Golden Retriever wanted to eat you, you would probably be scared of dogs. And if you were worried that the dinosaurs on your pillowcase might come to life while you slept, you might be terrified of linens. True. Only some toddlers are scared of baths. Only some toddlers are scared of dogs. And very few are scared of pillows. But most toddlers have some fears. And, to them, they’re not irrational ones.

It’s only life experience – and an understanding of the most basic scientific concepts – that turns the world into a place that makes some sense. Okay. That’s not true. No matter how old you get, the world doesn’t make sense. But, at least most of us aren’t afraid of baths.

5. Language. If you knew so few words that they could easily be recorded within a few lines of a baby book, you’d probably resort to crying every now and then too. Every day must feel like an endless, torturous game of “The $100,000 Pyramid” if you’re a toddler. Your shirt is bothering you but you can’t figure out how to say, “Oh my God! The tag in this shirt is so scratchy! I’d like to change into something more comfortable! Preferably in organic cotton!” But you can’t. So you get upset. And what’s the reaction from mom or dad? They tell you to use your words. Use your words! If you could, you would!

About the writer


Melissa Sher’s writing has been in the Huffington Post, New York Times’ Motherlode column, Chicago Tribune and bathroom stalls all over this beautiful country. She was named to the Babble 100: Top Bloggers of 2013 this year (and her mother wasn’t even one of the judges!). You can read her blog, Mammalingo, or follow her on Twitter @thismelissasher, or go outside and yell as loud as you can. Even if she can’t hear you, it will feel good.

From Around the Web


Melissa Sullivan 8 months ago

Well written. Perhaps in another post you could discuss toddler public tantrums such as those in the grocery store. Those were the ones I really dreaded when my daughters were very young.

Sam 1 year ago

I forget sometimes how hard it can be for my 2yo. It helps to remember these things during a tantrum.

melody 1 year ago

My daughter has a 2 year old daughter and is about to have a boy. When I was a pregnant and a toddler mom we didn’t have these I – phones to get advice and opinions.

Elizabeth Busby 1 year ago

A nice perspective on things Amy Brundige, good reminder to be patient.

Krystal Cook 1 year ago

Loved this!!!

Neesie Bear McNiel 1 year ago


Nicole Van Hoose 1 year ago

I completely get why kids in general get upset. They don’t get a lot of control over their lives; that would upset me horribly. As an adult, I never have to eat things that I don’t want to. EVER. And you can’t make me! I go to bed when I want, well except when I have to stay up and do crap I don’t want to…like the dishes. I get to go where I want and do what I want. Well, when I have the time and money. I mean, hypothetically I should be able to go on a vacation right now, but I beed money and time off for that. Hmm, now that I think about this, I kind of want to have a tantrum too.

Stephanie Rogers 1 year ago

So true!

Stephanie Rogers 1 year ago

I never said “use your words” er I don’t think anyways. I just chocked it up to growing pains. It’s very similar to “culture shock” when you visit another country. Some really out of control emotions can occur. e.g. WTH am I eating? OMG, was that actually cow tongue? …where is anything and everything I need? Completely dependent on someone to guide you somewhere. Don’t even know what people are saying. LOL It always helps when they act like they care or show some concern for your plight. Ha ha!

Ava Ryan 1 year ago

I love Scary Mommy.

Megan Brandl 1 year ago

Thanks for this great reminder.

Nicole Shestak 1 year ago


Terry 1 year ago

Need to add one more. Frustration. My daughter throws tantrums because she can’t do something she wants to do. For instance, she wants to blow bubbles but does not have the patience to learn how to blow first.

Liz Fryer 1 year ago

I love this. Thanks for sharing :)

Anna Godfrey Blakesley 1 year ago

Love this one!

Elaine Mackenzie 1 year ago

Had one today. Let my nearly 3 year old have a ride on the car thing outside shopping centre lets just say he did not want to come off!!!! Left his teen sister absolutely mortified….the joys haha

Kimberly Dennison 1 year ago

My toddler just threw a temper tantrum because I wasnt holding the tablet with BOTH hands

Heather Limestahl 1 year ago

Very good article!

Amy Collins 1 year ago

No they don’t lol. She likes playing with the toys in the waiting room. She doesn’t even like seeing the doctor lol

Stephanie Hall 1 year ago

Lilly is going through this now,it’s so ruff for her.

Barb Kinsinger 1 year ago

this article is great! Brings alot of things out in the open, that parents and grandparents have not even thought about. Love when you post these.

Laura Lewinski 1 year ago

I think it’s pretty important to remind toddlers that they actually can use their words to explain how they feel. It tends to calm my son down when he hears that and makes him think a bit instead of just reacting. Like anything with kids so young it is just an opportunity for them to learn. I don’t expect him to not cry or communicate in other ways.

Joeyandkatie Graham 1 year ago

My 2.5 yr old still isn’t talking and he has a lot of tantrums because he can’t tell me what he wants. We’ve taught him some sign language and it helps but the poor guy is still limited by what he can tell me.

Katie Thomas 1 year ago

The only time I have to tell my toddler to use her words is when she’s pantomiming what she means. It’s like a game to see if mommy can guess it.

Lauren Schutte-Oates 1 year ago

My son throws whoppers & it’s pretty upsetting! Especially when it happens in public … This makes me feel a whole lot better

Hannah Flier 1 year ago

Such a good article, really need to save this for later!

Nuru 1 year ago

I honestly didn’t know that tantrums started before 1year, so the first few utter frustrate melt downs, all be it short lived, I instantly blamed on the 2 year old he is in day care with. Nope, he gets frustrated just like we all do and really if everyone at every turn was telling me NO or stopping me in my path i would loose it too once in a while. Sometimes I giggle at the things he gets frustrated with like not being able to eat a dust bunny, a Cheerio is stuck to his hand and gravity, but I know those little things are just the straw that broke the camel’s back!

Amy Snipes Jennings 1 year ago

We just recently figured out that my four year old was pitching seemingly unprovoked, random fits because he still had GERD, which we thought he had outgrown at a year old. Turns out he just couldn’t communicate to us until recently what exactly was wrong to make him so grumpy. Now he is on Prevacid and he has become much more reasonable and so much more pleasant. I feel bad for every time I was harsh with him because I thought he was just being a pain.

Natalie Eslich 1 year ago

Never thought of it like that

Sarah Steele 1 year ago

My 3 year old is afraid he is going to go down the drain. Didn’t realize that was a fairly common fear.

Brooke Wondra 1 year ago

Makes total sense… I will TRY to keep this in mind next time I’m dealing with said tantrum.. 😉

Kam Kay 1 year ago

lolol ….. very valid reasons and very understandable.

Amy Anderson Saunders 1 year ago

One good thing, for the most part, is this behavior does diminish. Now, I could tell you about teenagers…..Ugh!

Linda Jordan 1 year ago


Becky Lewis 1 year ago

This article is the best! I just read the whole thing out loud to my husband and he agrees. People are so quick to dismiss “misbehaved” children in public because it’s annoying. My little guy is only 6 months, so no first hand here yet, but working retail I have always tried to be sympathetic to mothers with children having meltdowns. I know it’s going to happen to all parents and has nothing to do with bad parenting. If they handle the situation well with patience I even try and tell them I think they are doing a wonderful job, because that’s what I would like to hear. Parents handling tantrums should receive empathy, not judgmental glares.

Karen Buck 1 year ago

I love toddlers! I love how they think and can relate to most of it. What I can’t stand is when a person on these sites says “I like #4 or #2″and you have to go BACK to see which one they’re talking about!

Jana Brunet Tucker 1 year ago

Great perspective!

Lydia Lettrick 1 year ago

Well that is eye opening!

Keri Taylor 1 year ago

Being a toddler sucks

Deidre Brooke Philpott 1 year ago

I hate it when adults say “use your words” to toddlers. Just because toddlers aren’t using OUR words, doesn’t mean that a toddler isn’t using their own words. And, just because we can’t understand what they are saying, again…doesn’t mean they aren’t using their own words. The “words” and noises they use to communicate ARE their words!

Attie Lordan 1 year ago

Everyone has meltdowns, toddlers, adults, pets, everyone. Least we can have a glass if wine, go sit in car and scream, shop, hack the hell out of the shrubs etc. As for #5, I know in that sing song voice it’s annoying, but sometimes you have to do it. My son was premie so speech was a little delayed for him. Now we have miss 18 mths who has two siblings who do her talking for her and everything else. So have to remind her to say the words she does know. Great perspective, we forget how much effort it takes to be little.

Vikki Lauren 1 year ago

Love this!

Christine Elizabeth Finnegan 1 year ago

i am guilty of telling my LO to use her words. but usually only when I’m fairly certain what her issue is AND i know she has a word for it.

Jennifer Ryan 1 year ago

Great perspective! I needed to hear that!

Katy Ake 1 year ago

I worked with toddlers for years. We always had to keep in mind that just because we didn’t no the reason for whatever behavior didn’t mean there wasn’t one. They always had a reason they just couldn’t always convey it to us.

Amy Collins 1 year ago

My 2yo daughter just had a tantrum because she WASNT going to the doctors… Weird child lol xx

Alissa Coulombe 1 year ago

It drives me crazy when parents do #5!!

Amy Collins 1 year ago

My 2yo daughter just had a tantrum because she wasn’t going to the doctors??? Weird child xx

Judit Veres 1 year ago

😀 Oh, thanks for sharing this POV! So true!

Inese 1 year ago

You are absolutely right. But still tantrums are annoying as we are going trough this stage right now.

Melody Davis 1 year ago

Good read!

Tracey Richmond 1 year ago

So so true … Different brains/cognition /development . Same with teenagers and they are expected to be like adults because they look like adults . Not so SO not so

Mary Schneider 1 year ago

Lots of truth there. Sometimes a little empathy goes a long way in keeping our cool when dealing with toddler tantrums.

Lianda Jane 1 year ago

Well said

Andree Strange 1 year ago

Really good perspective

Jodie Allen 1 year ago



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