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10 Reasons Why a Toddler's Tantrum Is Actually a Good Thing

As parents of 2, 3, 4, and 5 year old's, we understand that there are times when your young one may feel a little frustrated, confused, and unsure about their emotions. Still learning about how to express themselves, these feeling come out in tantrums. The good news is that while completely normal for these ages, tantrums can be an opportunity for us parents to learn more about our children, and also be calmer in the face of them.

Toddler tantrums are one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. We tend to feel like good parents when our toddlers are smiley and happy, but can feel helpless and overwhelmed when they are lying on the floor kicking and screaming. Here are 10 important reasons why your toddler's tantrum can be seen as a good thing.

1. Better to work it out than hold in Tears contain cortisol, the stress hormone. When we cry, we are literally releasing stress from our bodies. Tears have also been found to lower blood pressure and improve emotional well-being. You may have noticed that when your toddler is on the brink of a tantrum, nothing is right. They are angry, frustrated, and only focused on getting the frustration out. Let them. You may have also noticed that after the storm has passed, they are in a much better mood. It helps if we let our kid's tantrum without trying to interrupt the process, so they get to the end of their feelings. "Crying is not the hurt, but the process of becoming unhurt," explains Deborah MacNamara, Ph.D.

2. Crying may help your child learn. A 5-year old was building with some Legos and started having a tantrum because they kept coming apart. However, after having the tantrum, he sat down and fixed the Lego structure. He was more focused afterward, gathered himself, and tried again. I've seen many moments like this, where a child is struggling and expressing their frustration helps them to clear their minds so they can learn something new or solve a problem. As parents, we can help with this, and after we allow them to work through their tantrum, we can help them learn once they are ready to try again. Research suggests that, for learning to take place, a child must be happy and relaxed, and expressing emotional upset is all part of this process.

3. Your child may sleep better Sleep problems often occur because we parents think the best approach to tantrums and upsets is to try to avoid them. Then, a child's pent-up emotions bubble up when his brain is at rest. Just like adults, children also wake because they're stressed or trying to process something that's happening in their lives. Allowing your child to get to the end of a tantrum improves emotional well-being and may help them sleep through the night.

4. You said 'NO,' and that's a good thing. Chances are the tantrum your toddler is having is because you said 'no.' And that's a good thing! Saying 'no' gives your child clear boundaries about acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Sometimes we may avoid saying 'no' because we don't want to deal with the emotional fallout, but we can stand firm with our limits while still offering, love, empathy, and hugs. Saying 'no' means you aren't afraid of the messy, emotional side of parenting. By saying ‘no' it shows you, and later your children that you love them and are doing the best things for them.

5. Your child feels safe to tell you how he feels. Tantrums are actually a big compliment, even if it doesn't always feel that way! In most cases, children aren't using tantrums to manipulate us or get what they want. Often your child is accepting the no, (in their own way), and as said before, he/she is just working through the process of accepting that. You can stand firm with the no, and empathize with thier sadness. The upset about the broken cookie or the wrong color socks is just a pretext, and it's love and connection that they really need.

6. Tantrums bring you closer together. It may be hard to believe at the time, but watch and wait. Your angry child may not look like she appreciates you being there, but she does. Let her get through the storm of her feelings without trying to stop or 'fix' them. Don't talk too much but offer a few kind, reassuring words. Offer hugs. Your child will soak up your unconditional acceptance and feel closer to you afterwards.

7. Tantrums help your child's behavior in the long run. Sometimes children's emotions come out in other ways, such as aggression, having trouble sharing, or refusing to cooperate on simple tasks like getting dressed or brushing teeth. These are all common signs that your child is struggling with his emotions. Having a big tantrum helps your child release the feelings that can get in the way of his natural, cooperative self.

8. If the tantrum happens at home, there's less chance it will happen in public. When children get to fully express their emotions, they will often choose to have their upsets at home where they sense we are more available to listen. "The more we ask our children to 'keep it together' at home and in public, the more the tension bottles up inside of them," says Michelle Pate, a parenting instructor and program manager at Hand in Hand Parenting. "The more we can find time and space to listen to our child's feelings of upset at home, the fewer bottled-up feelings they'll carry along with them on every excursion."

9. Your child is doing something that most people have forgotten how to do. As your child grows older, he will cry less. Partly this is maturing and learning to regulate his emotions. Partly it's learning to 'fit into' a society that isn't very accepting of emotional expression. When we adults get angry or stressed or "lose it" with our kids, it's often because we need a good cry too! As mentioned earlier (#1), it's a stress reliever. It's hard for adults, and particularly men, to really let go of these feelings. So let your child have that mood-enhancing tantrum while her emotions still flow freely.

10. Tantrums are healing for you, too. When we are present for our child's tantrum, it kicks up big feelings in us. When we were young, our parents may not have listened to our outbursts with empathy. Other's parents may have hugged you nonstop until you stopped crying. Thus, each parent's response to a tantrum will be different, partly based on their own upbringing. The important thing to remember is that parenting can be a healing path for our own emotional challenges when we get support and a chance to be listened to ourselves.

After emotional moments with your child, take time to practice self-care, talk with a friend, have a good laugh about your challenges, and maybe have a cry yourself. Staying calm takes practice, but when we manage it, we are literally rewiring our brains to become calmer, more peaceful parents.


Did You Know. . .

  • KidsFirst has an "open door policy." This means parents can visit or call anytime, without notice.
  • KidsFirst play areas have cushioned floors and walls to avoid fall injuries and encourage first steps.
  • All KidsFirst babies – to 18 months – have their own cribs with their names; cribs are never shared.

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