Is it normal that my toddler has meltdowns for no apparent reason?

I have a 19-month-old son who is generally a very happy kid--but sometimes he'll have a total meltdown for no apparent reason at all. Is this normal? If so, what's the best way to handle it? Nothing I do seems to help calm him down when he's really worked up.

Submitted by HCTimes

Dear HCTimes:


It is certainly commonplace and normal for toddlers to have meltdowns or tantrums, and many times the reason for any specific meltdown is difficult for parents to figure out. There is always an underlying reason of some sort--sometimes fatigue, frustration, hunger, excitement, or jealousy play a role. The overall meaning of the toddler's meltdown is the fact that his wishes, needs, and impulses are simply too overwhelming for him to handle in a "reasonable" grown-up way. It's just too much! Instead of talking about the problem like a mature person, the child simply collapses. We might note by the way that adults do this too, probably more frequently than we like to admit.


The best thing, of course, is to see the problem on the horizon and to intervene so that the meltdown doesn't take place. But naturally, parents are not mind-readers and cannot always predict what will cause a toddler to have this sort of collapse. Perhaps you can think back about what sort of situations seem to provoke these meltdowns and make some adjustments that will help your son keep his cool more effectively.


Once a toddler is all worked up, it can be hard to help the child settle down. The most important support that the parent can offer is a soothing and calm reassurance--maybe a lap or a seat next to the parent on the sofa or a bit of food as a distraction. Sometimes parents fear that being extra kind or soothing to a child who is falling apart is going to somehow encourage or reward the tantrum. This fear is not warranted. The most important thing for a child who is falling apart is the availability of the loving parent, standing by to offer whatever the parent can realistically do to help the child pull himself together. Just saying, "There, there," softly can be useful. The hard part for parents (who are only human) is that the child's rage and excitement is pretty contagious, and parents can easily escalate too. Avoiding this trap takes superhuman self-control!


Time will fix this.


Elizabeth Berger MD
Child Psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character

Answered by Parents Team
Community Answers (3)

Try to figure out if there is a pattern. What happened right before the meltdown? Try to relate it to the previous episode. I completely understand that at times it must get very difficult to be patient. But don't let your boy feel your irritation. He can't express like we adults do and hence sometimes, that is his way of letting out. It will pass. We see that a lot at our place as well so don't worry. Just be there for him.
Submitted by firstschool123

preventing meltdowns for the most part is planning and yes more planning. often we as adults get caught up in what we are doing or have to accomplish and slip on snacks,nap time,not catching boredom or over stimulation and all of these can be avoided by anticipating what our child needs and planning accordingly. Ms. Beger has explained an excellent way of handling these meltdowns and it works! keeping our patience not only helps them short term gives them the tools to cope later in life.
Submitted by agareli33