a toddler throwing a tantrum

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If you have young children, you’ve likely experienced several different types of toddler tantrums. If you’re lucky enough that you haven’t yet, well… just give it time. Toddler tantrums are a bit of a right of passage for parents everywhere.

Suffering through a toddler meltdown isn’t fun, but you know what? It can still be funNY.

Here, I’ve broken down the thirteen most common types of toddler tantrums parents may endure. If you’re caring for toddlers, I hope it gives you a laugh you so surely deserve!

13 types of toddler tantrums every parent experiences with a picture of a toddler crying

Tantrum Types You Can Identify by Their Tactics

You can most easily identify this particular group of tantrums by what you witness. How are your senses being assaulted by your child’s actions? That’s how you know what you’re dealing with.

Your toddler may employ a variety of techniques as they unleash their rage. While these techniques may vary, they all have one thing in common: they’re all awful.

The real kicker? While your child may start with one type of toddler tantrum, they can switch to a different version at any time. The possibilities are endless!

The Plank

This is a classic toddler tantrum move. One minute, your toddler’s acting like a typical human with normal anatomy. Then suddenly, their entire body turns to bone. They’re stiff as a board and, unlike in your local martial arts class, karate-chopping them into submission isn’t an option.

This particular type of toddler tantrum appears most frequently when a parent (or other lucky caregiver) attempts to buckle the child into a car seat.

You think you’re going to keep me safe in this vehicle, Mom? NOT TODAY, SATAN!

The Wet Noodle

We should discuss this brand of toddler tantrum next because it’s the polar opposite of The Plank. The signature move for this tantrum is going limp. There are no more bones or cartilage in your child’s body. They are now entirely composed of some combination of overcooked pasta and Jello.

This type of tantrum is best employed when the parent tries to hold onto the toddler or carry them anywhere. If you think your toddler is tough to carry on a regular day, you’re in for a heck of a surprise when he or she goes Wet Noodle.

Trying to carry a toddler during a Wet Noodle tantrum is like trying to tackle a pig coated in Vaseline: It’s technically possible, but you’re going to look ridiculous doing it.

Of course, there is an alternative. To see a father handling his child’s Wet Noodling like an absolute boss, you can check out the video below. Notice that he doesn’t attempt to carry – he drags instead. That makes all the difference!

All I have to say to this dad is — I salute you and I hope you made your flight!

The Tasmanian Devil

This is one of the worst types of toddler tantrums because it has the potential for some serious destruction. If you’ve seen the old Looney Toon cartoons, where the Tasmanian Devil spins in a whirlwind of chaos and demolition, then you’ve had a little preview of how this goes down.

A toddler in the throes of this particular temper tantrum is on a path of destruction and Heaven help anyone or anything who gets in their way.

Mission: Self-Destruct

This tantrum style shares a lot in common with the Tasmanian Devil. The difference is that instead of destroying everything in their surroundings, your toddler’s behavior mostly injures just them. It is the most baffling of all the toddler tantrums.

Examples of Mission: Self-Destruct include violent flailing and, a classic among my own toddlers, head-banging.

Why would you choose to express your rage by banging your own head on the ground? I have no idea. All I know is it’s been a go-to for three of my four sons.

Types of Toddler Tantrums Defined By Their Duration

Categorizing tantrums by their performance is all well and good, but that doesn’t always tell the whole story. After all, did your toddler go Plank for 20 seconds or 20 minutes? There’s a huge difference!

That’s where these temper tantrum labels come in handy.

The Marathoner

While most toddler tantrums feel like they last forever, this particular meltdown actually does. It’s like the Energizer Bunny commercials from the 1990s. It “keeps going and going and going.”

I hope you don’t have big plans on your agenda, because a few minutes in, this tantrum’s just getting started. You’ll find yourself checking the time in disbelief again and again.

A toddler practicing The Marathoner is like a hurricane over water. The raging child has all the necessary fuel to keep the tantrum going in perpetuity. No additional offenses or causes of anger are necessary.

toddler throwing a tantrum in a jersey

The Start-and-Stop

This type of tantrum is similar to The Marathoner in that it can last a really long time. A meltdown like this can just eat away at your day (and your sanity).

The key difference here is all the false hope. While The Marathoner just keeps on keeping on, the Start-and-Stop toys with your emotions.

Multiple times, your toddler will start to settle down. The screaming and crying hits a lull and you’ll hear just a few exasperated gasps and whimpers. You get hopeful that your child is returning to reason.

But then, just when you think it’s over, nope! The demon inside returns and the whole meltdown starts up all over again. So fun!

The It Wasn’t Me

This tantrum gets its name from the Shaggy song from 2000. (Big thanks to Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and that Cheetos commercial for reviving that hit!)

This It Wasn’t Me is when a toddler throws a fit, but only you see it. You’re treated to the full train wreck – stomping, crying, thrashing. Your child absolutely puts you through the ringer.

Then suddenly, your partner or parent (ie toddler’s grandparent) walks through the door and POOF! Tantrum’s over.

You try to explain what happened. You try to adequately explain the Defcon-1-level rage you just experienced at the hands of someone who can barely walk and talk.

But it’s of no use.

Your toddler is standing there, sweet as can be. Their big eyes resemble a Precious Moments figurine or Disney princess. All you get for your efforts is a simple statement from Grandma – “Nope, not this little angel!”

Toddler Tantrums You Can Clearly Identify By Their Cause

Sometimes it’s impossible to tell what set your toddler off (we’ll get to those later). Other times, the source of the problem is crystal clear.

Here’s a breakdown of a few classic toddler tantrum causes:

The Miss Independent

It’s not just a Kelly Clarkson song. The Miss Independent is also a tried-and-true style of toddler freak-out.

Toddlers LOVE to do it themselves!

What is “it”? IT DOESN’T MATTER!

It could be anything really. Zipping up their own jacket, putting on their own shoes, buckling their own car seat.

(Seriously, I nearly get hives thinking about the amount of time I’ve lost over the years from my toddlers trying to buckle their own car seats with their adorable, tiny, useless little fingers).

Interfering with a toddler who’s declared “I do it myself” is the perfect spark for a Miss Independent fire.

Congratulations! Any time you thought you’d save by doing it for them will now be wasted handling their meltdown.

The Co-Dependent

The worst thing about the Miss Independent tantrum is there’s an equally awful counterpart—the Co-Dependent.

Just as your toddler may throw a fit when they aren’t allowed to do something themselves, they may also throw a fit when you allow them to do something themselves.

The same toddler who desperately wanted to feed himself with a spoon yesterday? Today, he only wants you to feed him.

The toddler who sent himself down the slide yesterday (and don’t you dare touch him!)? He wants you to hold his hand the entire way down today.

So which is it? Does your child want your help or not?

NO ONE KNOWS! It’s like a logic puzzle designed by Satan himself.

The Does Not Compute

Have you ever tried to figure out what a toddler is saying? It’s not exactly a simple task. Toddler language skills, while adorable, often leave a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, that’s where the Does Not Compute tantrums originate. While your toddler feels she very clearly asked you for a goldfish snack, what she actually said was,

“Guh fuh suh?”

Over time, you’ll probably come to realize what she meant. But time’s not on your side right now.

After a few times repeating “Guh fuh suh” and being offered not-goldfish, toddler’s ready to jump off the deep end –and she’s taking you with her.

The kicker? When you finally figure out (145 years later) what she was asking for and offer it to her, she won’t want them anymore.

Toddlers are delightful!

Toddler tantrums that occur in unique circumstances

These types of tantrums are less about what your toddler does. They’re better defined by the surroundings and the caregiver’s experience during this process.

Your child can use any number of tactics during these emotional episodes. These tantrums can be short or long. But either way, they’re sure to pack a punch.

The Holiday or Special Occasion Inspired Tantrums

Are you celebrating something special? Is it a national holiday or otherwise important event? If so, proceed with caution.

The excitement and anticipation, variation from routine, treats and excessive attention, among other things, make these events ripe for toddler meltdowns.

If you’ve ever seen an adorable little girl in a red velvet gown completely losing her mind beneath a Christmas tree while all her relatives look on in shock and horror, you’ve witnessed Holiday Tantrum.

The worst part of these tantrums for caregivers is the people in charge have undoubtedly worked hard to make it a fun, special time for said toddler. Unfortunately, by the time the Holiday Inspired tantrum kicks in, Toddler doesn’t care. Rational thought left the scene long ago.

Reasoning with Holiday Tantrum Toddler is the equivalent of reasoning with your college roommate when she was way-too-many beers deep: Not gonna happen. Save it for tomorrow.

toddler tantrum in a halloween costume
Halloween — another classic source of holiday-inspired toddler tantrums!

Public Shaming

This can really include any variety of tantrum discussed in this post. The key is: it must be done publicly.

There’ll be no sparing of embarrassment for you today. No m’am.

Your public shaming may include well-meaning passersby. They offer you assistance (God bless them), but that also adds to the number of people witnessing your humiliation.

It will definitely include at least two judgy older women, clucking amongst themselves (loud enough for you to hear) helpful commentary like:

“My kids would have never…”

“Children today have no discipline!”

“People shouldn’t have children if they can’t control them.”

You will be humiliated. Even if you’re one of those I-don’t-care-what-people-think-about-me types, that doesn’t apply in the midst of a Public Shaming tantrum.

The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can collect your planking-wet-noodle-tasmanian-devil child from the Target aisle and get on with your life.

(And by get on with your life, I mean never returning to this particular store again. The pain is too fresh. The humiliation, too great.)

Finally, the most confusing tantrum of all

There are so many different types of tantrums, but the most baffling of all is the one you never see coming. I’ve dubbed this particular style:

The What On God’s Green Earth?!

The What on God’s Green Earth?! is best identified by its source. To be more specific, this is a toddler tantrum whose source is completely unknown.

A child who’s lost their favorite toy? Nope, that’s not it.

A toddler who’s been told “No”? Also no.

A toddler who was happy as a clam and suddenly, out of nowhere, starts wailing loudly and thrashing violently? DING DING DING!

What set off this dramatic display? No one knows. Not you, not any other witnesses, possibly (probably) not even your toddler himself.

A little note of encouragement for caregivers of toddlers

Dealing with toddler tantrums can be a lot.

Now that I’ve had four boys, I often find myself laughing at the absurdity of my youngest’s tantrums. I’d say I can usually laugh it off around 75% of the time at this point.

But you know what? The other 25% of the time still makes me want to put on noise-cancelling headphones and down a bottle of wine.

SO, if you’re still struggling in the face of some epic toddler meltdowns, I hope this post gave you a chuckle. I’m sending you all the solidarity fist-bumps!

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