What are some common triggers for toddlers’ temper tantrums?

You certainly can’t prevent all tantrum triggers, all the time. But you can try to keep them in mind throughout your day with your toddler -- and possibly prevent some tantrums as a result. Here are some common situations that can trigger toddler meltdowns:

  •   Not enough physical activity during the day
  •   Too many “forbidden” things or activities in the environment
  •   Frustration at inability to do something (e.g., speech, coordination, dexterity, size)
  •   Too many people and/or too much noise in the environment
  •   Unfamiliar or disliked people in the environment, especially if they want something from the toddler, like a kiss
  •   Major change in routine or environment
  •   Sleepiness
  •   Hunger or thirst
  •   Illness, teething pain, ear infection
  •   Potty conflicts and frustrations
  •   Parent “tuned out,” busy, not paying attention to what toddler needs
  •   Parents trying to accomplish too many “adult” tasks with toddler (e.g., adult conversations)
  •   Activity overload (e.g., too much TV)
  •   Environment is too active or chaotic (e.g., dinnertime, kids running around, TV on, neighbors coming and going)
Alan Greene, MD
Many of the meltdowns children experience between about 9 and 30 months old arise from the frustration of not being able to communicate. Their ideas far outstrip their language skills. The "terrible twos" are less terrible the more children learn how to get across their intense and conflicting thoughts. Baby signs and tools like my KidGlyphs app are a wonderful way to do this. Children are also likely to have tantrums -- or, as I like to call them, "emotional storms" -- when they are hungry, tired, uncomfortable, or over-stimulated. Be proactive about meeting these physical needs and, again, try to communicate with your child to understand when these needs are not being met.

Continue Learning about Tantrums & Toddlers

How can I get my child to stop having temper tantrums?
Heather Wittenberg, PhDHeather Wittenberg, PhD
What is really important is that you develop routines for your family that work for you. Every f...
More Answers
How can distractions be useful in preventing a toddler's meltdown?
Discovery HealthDiscovery Health
In this video from the Discovery Health show "Baby Madness," Dr. Christina Johns suggests keeping to...
More Answers
What is a temper tantrum?
Allison Patterson, PsyDAllison Patterson, PsyD
Temper tantrums are normal in young children, however, they could be difficult to manage, upsetting ...
More Answers
What Are Some Proven Techniques for Preventing Tantrums?
What Are Some Proven Techniques for Preventing Tantrums?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.