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10 Reasons for Toddler Meltdowns and How to Prevent Them Before They Happen

metldownYour toddler is full of excitement and wonder, discovering the world at all times. But when things don’t go his way, a meltdown is likely to ensue. Temper tantrums are a normal phase of toddlerhood, which is defined as 18 months to four years of age, says Dr. Fran Walfish, California-based psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child.”

“He has many objectives to achieve during this crucial period of development and many parents do not know how to help their growing children reach these milestones,” says Walfish.

As a parent, uncover the top 10 reasons your toddler may head toward meltdown mode and learn how to prevent them before they spin out of control.

  • Need for Independence: The goal of a toddler is to claim himself as a separate being from mommy and daddy, says Walfish. Therefore, when your child wants to claim his independence and is halted from doing tasks on his own, a meltdown often occurs. To avoid a fit of kicking and screaming, gradually begin to nurture your toddler’s independence by letting him “help” with household tasks. Even if his shirt is on inside out and his bed sheets are drooping on the floor, allow him to be a “big boy” and try to show his independence.
  • Separation from Mommy and Daddy: Even though your toddler wants her independence, she still craves nurturing from her parents. When dropping her off at daycare or preschool, she may not want to let go of you for the day. Instead of giving into the pleas and cries, redirect your child by discussing the fun activities and games she will get to experience while driving to school. If you show your toddler that her day will be filled with friends, snacks and games, it’s likely she may take off running and wave goodbye when it is time for the daily drop-off.
  • Lack of Sleep: Stopping meltdowns before they happen requires a deep understanding of the signs your child gives when he is about to blow, says Tara Kennedy-Kline, certified family parenting expert and author of “Stop Raising Einstein.” “If your toddler pulls his ear or twirls her hair when she is tired, and you see them doing that but take them to the playground anyway, expect a meltdown,” says Kennedy-Kline. Prevent a tantrum from your sleepy toddler by maintaining a consistent sleep and nap schedule. If your toddler tends to get tired late in the morning, avoid planning activities during that time. A well-rested toddler is less likely to breakdown in tears or throw a fit when you least expect it.
  • Hunger Pains: Just as your child needs plenty of rest, he also needs to keep a consistent feeding schedule. Even if your day is full of play dates and errands, keep a snack or two handy to avoid meltdowns triggered by hunger. Take note of signs such as a growling stomach or constant whining that indicate your child is ready to eat, says Kennedy-Kline.
  • Change in Schedule: Stick with a consistent schedule as much as possible, recommends Christina Steinorth, California-based psychotherapist and author of “Cue Cards for Life.” “Schedules and routines can be very soothing because there are no surprises for a toddler,” she says. Have regular bed, nap, meal and activity times to avoid triggering that oh-so terrifying tantrum.
  • Inability to Communicate: One of the most common reasons toddlers venture into meltdown mode is because they don’t have the ability to express themselves verbally, says Steinorth. “Your toddler may be tired, hungry, thirsty or bored and simply not be able to say “Mom, I’m tired,” she says. “In order to communicate his or her discomfort or dissatisfaction, your child will melt down.” Find ways to help your child communicate through pictures, objects and facial expressions to not only avoid meltdowns but also improve his ability to express himself when frustrated.
  • Illness: As adults, when we are feeling down and out, the last thing we want is interaction with others and a full day of activities. Your child responds the same way. If she is not feeling her best or is struggling with a cold or virus, it’s likely she is going to get cranky, prompting a toddler tantrum. Avoid these meltdowns by providing your child with the comfort she needs. This may entail cuddling on the couch with a blanket, making a trip to the doctor or resting together so she can regain her strength.
  • The “Forbidden” Object: No matter how much you child-proof your home, it’s natural for your toddler to find a way to explore forbidden objects, such as electronics, remotes and breakables. When he has finally acquired the object he has worked so hard to grab, you can bet he is going to fight to keep it. For the sake of safety, it is necessary for parents to take away items that can cause their child harm; however, be aware that a meltdown is right around the corner when this happens. The key to preventing a fit of screams from your little one is to redirect his attention to a better, shinier object. Keep a stash of toys or books hidden so you can both “discover” them when he has to let go of a “forbidden” object.
  • Sharing: Remember how you felt when you received a new toy as a gift? Beyond the excitement you felt, you also probably viewed the toy as yours and yours alone. When toddlers are asked to share their treasured toys, it’s a difficult task to watch another child take ownership of it, even if it’s just for a short time. Prevent meltdowns when asking your child to share with others by playing a game of taking turns or swapping toys for a timed period. When your toddler knows that he will receive his toy back in a specified amount of time, his level of anxiety will decrease and the possibility of a meltdown slowly fades.
  • The Word “No:” Rejection is difficult at any age, but when a toddler hears the word “No,” she doesn’t have the language ability to reason or negotiate. Consider offering options to avoid a complete meltdown. Instead of responding with “no” when she asks for a toy in the store, remind her of all of the nice toys she has at home. “Would you like to play with your baby doll with mommy when we get home?” will likely yield a much more positive response from your little one than a sharp-toned “no,” which dismisses her feelings.

Even though there is no surefire method of avoiding meltdowns at all times, according to Kennedy-Kline, it’s important to recognize that toddler tantrums are a form of expression that will eventually fade as your child acquires the ability to handle conflict and frustration. “The best thing is to remain completely calm, and never engage in a fight or argument with an escalating child,” she says.

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