The screaming, the kicking, the crying - as parents or caregivers, we've all been there! The dreaded toddler tantrum! Tantrums is the reason the 2nd year of life is often referred to as the “terrible twos.”

No matter your child’s age, tantrums and meltdowns are no fun for anyone. Not for your child, and definitely not for you. We often find ourselves scrambling to figure out what they need at that very moment. Did you know that sometimes these behavioral issues can be caused by a child's inability to adequately express themselves?

In this article, we're going to cover toddler tantrums, and how language development can play a role in causing or contributing to them. While all little ones experience challenging moments, the information discussed here will help you determine if a possible language delay could be at the root of your child’s frustrations - and how you can help them.

All About Tantrums

Temper tantrums are actually a normal part of child development. When children are young toddlers, they have not yet developed the ability to manage their emotions in a socially appropriate way. Whether your child is experiencing big feelings of anger or disappointment, or they're simply just hungry or tired, these emotions can build up and explode into an outburst. Tantrums leave parents feeling tense, as well.

While meltdowns are developmentally normal, one thing that can make tantrums more challenging is a child's inability to express why they’re upset. For some children, this can be worsened by a language delay. Sometimes the language delay itself can even be the cause of the meltdown. Not being able to communicate our wants and needs would make anyone upset, especially a young child that does not yet understand how to express their thoughts and handle their emotions in a calm way.

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Signs of a Language Delay

Just because a child experiences tantrums doesn’t mean they necessarily have a language delay. However if a toddler has a language delay then tantrums may be more prevalent in day-to-day life.

Let’s take a closer look at how to determine if language delays may be playing a role in your child's behavioral issues.

To do this, it's important to first determine if a child is meeting age-appropriate expressive language norms. Here are a few signs to look for:

  • If a child is 2 years old they should be able to communicate using 2 word phrases. Examples can include, "More please," or "Give me."
  • If a child is 3 years or older, they should be able to communicate in at least 4 word sentences. Examples can include, "I want that one," or "Can I do that?"

If your child seems to be struggling with communication, even during times when they are not highly emotional, overwhelmed, or disappointed, a language delay may be present. In moments of frustration, you can assume that the language delay is likely a big contributing factor to the tantrum.

How To Respond During a Tantrum  

Tantrums are one of the most challenging parts of parenthood. In order to help a child better communicate during an emotionally-charged situation, it's important to first attempt to pacify your child. After they calm down, it's now time to figure out what your child needs. Follow these tips below as a guideline when dealing with your child’s tantrum:

  • Validate the child’s feelings. Let them know that you see how they’re feeling.
  • Model how to stay calm for the child even when they are upset. Speak calmly to the child and don’t raise your voice.
  • If needed, take the child to a quiet, safe place.
  • After the child is calm, ask them what they need. If they are unable to tell you, you could say, “Show me what you need” or “Show me what’s wrong.”
  • You can also make communication easier by utilizing yes/no questions. These are questions such as, “Are you hungry?”or “Are you hurt?” As a tip, try to avoid asking too many questions at once, and make sure to give your child time to process their answers and formulate their response.

Everyday Communication

Apart from helping a child learn manage their emotions, calm down, and more appropriately express their needs after a tantrum, it’s also very important to make sure that they are communicating in everyday situations. Children need to communicate with others during happy moments as well as moments of displeasure.

Language development is an ongoing process that starts in infancy. That's why it's so important to make sure that a language delay is identified as early as possible. Check out this article for a developmental guideline of language development, as well as the importance of early speech intervention.

The Importance of Early Speech Intervention
It’s common for children to need extra help meeting crucial speech and language milestones. That’s why it’s so important for parents, caregivers, and teachers to know how to spot the signs of a delay and seek early intervention.

If you suspect your child may have a speech or language delay, don't wait to act. First, you will want to speak with your child’s pediatrician. They're a great source of information to help determine if a referral for speech therapy is warranted. It also never hurts to have your child professionally evaluated by a speech therapist. They can help you better understand whether your child is reaching age-appropriate communication milestones and, if necessary, work with you and your child on techniques and strategies to reach your goals. It can often help put many parents' minds at ease.

How To Help Your Child Improve Their Speech

While working with a professional speech therapist can be extremely beneficial, it's important to know that you can also implement speech practice at home! Children need consistent practice of speech goals in the home environment, so don’t wait until after your child begins speech therapy to start working together.

Check out this article for some fun, everyday activities to help your little one increase their communication skills. Speech practice does not have to be elaborate - children learn best when they are engaged in natural everyday routines.

Finally, as energizing as it can feel to have an ambitious game plan to improve your child's language skills, it's critical to set appropriate goals. You want to make sure you're working on skills at their current level, and only prompt a response from them that is slightly more mature than what they typically present. Expecting too much, too quickly from your child can cause frustration - which is exactly what we are trying to avoid! For example, this article is a great resource when deciding what length of phrases is appropriate to work on with your child.

How to Help Your Child Use Longer Phrases When Talking
As a child’s language develops, they start incorporating longer phrases of words into their speech. However, some kiddos need extra help to encourage longer spoken phrases. In this article, we cover simples tips you can begin practicing with your child today.

Working on these techniques with your child, and helping to identify whether a language delay may be a cause or contributor to their tantrums, is key to helping them better process, express, and manage their emotions.