My toddler can sometimes act a little schizophrenic. One moment she asked for an apple and I went to get an apple. The next moment, she screamed “NO APPLE” and blamed you for bringing it over while kicking, screaming, pounding on the floor or throwing things. Despite this, I still want to say this out loud:

I love toddler tantrums and you, as a parent, should, too.

Supporters of the restaurant owner who yelled at a crying baby will probably say that I’m crazy. But no, I’m not. I love toddler tantrums because they are actually good for my kid. Seriously. Here is why.

A tantrum is not a pretty sight. It can happen at home, in a restaurant, in a toy store, etc. When it happens in a public place, a toddler’s tantrum can be both embarrassing and stressful for the parents.

When babies are born, their brains are not yet well developed. Developing a baby’s brain is in some way akin to building a house. First, there is the genetic makeup. Genetics determines a basic plan for a child’s brain development. It acts as a blueprint for the brain’s architecture. Then there is life experience as the construction material.

The initial life experience when the brain begins to develop can have a profound influence on the brain’s architecture. Just as using adequate and quality foundation material can build a good foundation in a house, having adequate and quality initial life experience allows good developmental foundation to form in a baby’s brain. Temper tantrum is one such essential life experience. It allows kids to learn to regulate their emotion.

Emotion regulation is a child’s effort to manage, inhibit, enhance or modulate emotions. It lays the groundwork for further brain development. Studies show that children who can master emotion regulation throw fewer tantrums, recover faster when they have fits, form better friendships and exhibit less behavioral problems. As they grow up, they also tend to do better in school and lead more satisfied lives in adulthood.

So, helping children learn to self-regulate is, perhaps, parents’ most important job and temper tantrums are golden opportunities to do so. When we interact with our kids during their tantrums, we are directly teaching them how to deal with big feelings and how to handle difficulties in life.

This is why parents should not discourage this age-appropriate behavior. Temper tantrums are the result of our kids trying to assert their independence after the realization that we are separate individuals, but they lack the way to do so. Tantrums are their outlets until they learn to express their needs verbally and calmly.

A temper tantrum doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience if we can remind ourselves that it is an opportunity for the child to acquire new skills. The best thing we can do while handling a tantrum is to stay calm. By being in control of our own emotion, we show our children how they can do it. I usually imagine how I want my toddler to handle her current frustration and then do exactly that myself.

With practice and guidance, toddlers can gradually learn to soothe themselves. Use this occasion to teach them how to properly express their feelings without being destructive (increase self-control), how to describe their needs using words (improve vocabulary) and how to solve a problem in a different way (promote critical thinking). All these are “benefits” of having a tantrum.

So don’t hate your toddler’s tantrums. They may be irritating, but you can channel them into valuable experience for your child’s development. I’ve learned to love tantrums, and I am sure you can too.

References:
– Child, N. S. C. o. t. D., 2007. The Timing and Quality of Early Experiences Combine to Shape Brain Architecture: Working Paper No. 5. http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/reports_and_working_papers/working_papers/wp5/
– Johnson, J. S. & Newport, E. L., 1989. Critical period effects in second language learning: The influence of maturational state on the acquisition of English as a second language. Cognitive Psychology. Volume 21, Issue 1, p. 60–99.
– Schore, A. N., 1999. Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development. s.l.:s.n.