The first year of your baby’s life is spent decoding cries: Are they tired? Hungry? Gassy? Need a new diaper? Over time, you get pretty good at reading their cues and meeting their needs before the crying escalates.

But at around 12 months you may notice your (now) toddler getting upset over anything from not getting to pick out a toy at the store to being served peas rather than toast.

Tantrums or “upsets” are par for the course when it comes to raising toddlers. Although unpleasant, upsets are a normal part of a toddler’s development. As toddlers become more independent, they can also become more persistent. They are learning to think for themselves and regulate their emotions. Sometimes a toddler’s emotions can overwhelm them. Helping your child understand what their feelings are and what to do about it is a lifelong skill.

What Upsets Look Like

Some upsets pass fast, others can go on for quite some time and you may see:

  • Crying (without being hurt)
  • Screaming and yelling
  • Stomping feet
  • Falling to the floor
  • Some toddlers will hold their breath for a short time
  • Refusing to leave a location, especially if they are having fun

The life of a toddler is filled with little frustrations. They want to touch, taste, and experience everything and, as a result, are told “no” more than they’d like to hear. In addition, there are other reasons your toddler might become upset:

  • Things do not go as they expected
  • They don’t know the words to use to ask for what they want
  • Being overtired or hungry

Preventing Upsets

Some parents throw around the term “terrible 2s” because 2-year olds are notorious for their upsets. But, depending on your child’s personality, upsets can start earlier or they may rarely ever pop up—lucky you! If your toddler is prone to upsets, it’s a good idea to figure out what their triggers are and ways you can head off an upset before it starts. Here are some more tips for preventing upsets:

  • In your home, put away special things you don’t want your child to play with. This reduces the amount of times you have to say “no.”
  • Create and keep to a regular routine as much as possible.
  • Talk to your toddler about what to expect next during the day: “We need to get your brother from school, then we are going to the grocery store for bread.”
  • For upsets caused by boredom (say, having to wait in line at the store), have some distractions with you such as small toys or coloring books.
  • Offer praise for good behavior.
  • Offer a choice whenever possible: “Do you want to wear your yellow sweater or your green sweatshirt?”

Despite our best efforts, it might not always be possible to avoid an upset. One approach to managing them is to use planned ignoring. For toddlers under 2-years old, don’t give any attention to the misbehavior. When your toddler’s upset stops, you can step in with affection and praise for working through their emotions.

For older toddlers, acknowledge their feelings first and say when they can have the thing they are asking for: “Gideon, I know you really want a cookie now. You may have one after dinner.” If the upset continues, try taking a “break” with your toddler where you use a calming strategy to help your toddler relax. These include:

As with all stages of development, upsets won’t last forever. With time and support from you, your child will learn to better regulate their emotions and communicate in a way that is much more effective and pleasant for the both of you!


This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website ( or contact us at

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