Ahh, toddlers. They can go from being the most charming people on Earth to behaving like Satan’s spawn in the blink of an eye.
Having gone through the toddler years three times now (well, four times if you count my own toddler years, but those are a bit hazy), I’ve become quite well-versed in the art of the toddler tantrum. As I’ve borne witness to approximately 4,593 of them, a pattern has emerged. Much like the five stages of grief, the toddler tantrum also has five distinct stages.
The Five Stages of a Toddler Tantrum
Stage One: Denial- This stage usually begins right after the parent has said something contrary to the desires of the toddler, such as, “No, you may not run naked through the mall,” or “I’ve already cut your sandwich in triangles. I can’t cut it into rectangles now.”
The toddler will insist on the opposite of whatever the parent has stated, refusing to believe that anything other than his Own Way will prevail.
Parents, take note! This is the warning stage. It’s about to get real, so prepare yourselves.
Stage Two: Anger- When the toddler realizes that the parent is indeed serious about whatever was stated in Stage One, Stage Two will quickly commence.
This is probably the most well-known and documented of the five stages because it is the stage in which the toddler goes completely insane: Screaming, crying, throwing herself on the floor, flailing, kicking, biting, shooting fire darts from her eyes.
A toddler in Stage Two is quite possibly the strongest and most dangerous force on earth. No amount of reasoning will help; you’ll just make her more angry. Stand back and watch in frightened amusement until she moves to Stage Three.
Stage Three: Bargaining- No one is sure what causes a toddler to move from Stage Two to Stage Three, but the most likely explanation is that he’s just plain tired from all the anger he’s spewed and needs a break.
This stage is characterized by the toddler’s attempt to negotiate. There will be a lot of puppy dog eyes and “Pweeeease Mommy,” and “I be good, I pwomise!” However, after the horror of Stage Two, the logical parent will not be willing to give in.
If receiving an undesired answer, it is possible for the toddler to move back to Stage Two, but eventually he will get past Stage Three and move on to Stage Four.
Stage Four: Depression- This stage begins when the toddler has exhausted all anger and tried every bargaining tactic in her arsenal to no avail. Thankfully it’s much quieter than Stage Two, but although the screaming is over, be prepared for a lot of crying.
Stage Four can be hard to get through simply because sad toddlers are really cute and make parents feel really bad, but take heart and don’t give in! You’ve almost made it to Stage Five!
Stage Five: Acceptance- Finally! After a hard-fought battle, the toddler realizes that the parent isn’t in fact going to back down. Crazy Toddler slowly morphs back into Sweet, Adorable, Loving Toddler (or SALT if you like acronyms).
The best part of Stage Five is that everyone is so worn out that nap time becomes an almost immediate necessity. Rest up while you can! Another Stage One is sure to be just around the corner.
Julie M Mulligan says
I know these well. My youngest of three is four now, so she is slowly moving away from these tantrums, but occasionally she will surprise is with one just to keep us on our toes.
My favorite is the first stage. You can see it in her eyes and you just know that this isn’t a simple denial or disagreement. “She is going to blow,” my friend once told me when she saw my daughter’s face after I had the audacity to cut her pancake into bite size pieces.
Ah, good times!
My youngest is 3 1/2 and although I don’t want to rush her to grow, I won’t miss this particular part of it. She has some doozies!
I was laughing through most of this post because right before reading, my almost 2 year old had a full blown tantrum!!! So funny because it is so true. I try to let her get her frustrations all out when at home, but it’s so embarrassing out because people always wait to see what your reaction will be! You on the other hand, are a pro for going through more than even one bout of the toddler years! Thanks for sharing!
I wouldn’t call myself a pro, lol. It’s still really embarrassing when it happens in public!! It does help to know that it happens to all of us though 🙂
We seem to be stuck in perpetual stage 2. SUCKS!!!
Yeah, that’s our main stage too (or maybe it’s just the one I remember most after every tantrum because it’s so traumatizing, hahaha!)
Isn’t it funny that now at nearly seven years old, my son still goes through these stages. He’s a bit more of a negotiator or a puppy-dog-eyed “Plllllllleeeeeese mom” -er, but still goes through the similar process.
Julie S says
Oh awesome categories. I’m about to experience these as the little just turned one.
Good luck! And welcome to the club 😉
Jenny @ Unremarkable Files says
Around here, our temper tantrums have lately been:
Step 1) Run screaming and hide in the curtains when mom/dad asks you to put away your toy.
Step 2) Refuse to come out and growl at people when they call your name.
Step 3) Only emerge after you’re sure someone else has picked up the toy.
Step 4) Act like nothing ever happened.
Michele Smith says
All your posts have made my evening and given me some much needed laughter. However, on a more serious/practical note, what if you have such a stubborn toddler she never seems to most past ‘Stage 2’ unless she gets what she wants?? I never thought I’d have to battle someone more stubborn than me, let alone discipline/educate one, but she’s 21 months old and kicking my butt. Any advice?
Michele Smith says
…seems to *move past, not most past. Sorry for the typo!
Sorry for taking so long to respond Michele! Honestly, I don’t have any great advice except to be consistent. My daughter is the same way, very strong-willed and stubborn. I choose my battles (some are definitely not worth fighting), but once I decide to take a stand I HAVE to be the one who is more stubborn. We’ve had hours-long battles where I’ve said more than once, “I’m going to win this one!” It doesn’t usually feel like a win to lock ourselves in the playroom for an hour until she cleans up all the toys she just dumped out, but I have to think she’s learning something… slowly. 😉