Why’s My One Year Old Throwing a Fit?

Is it because I’m a bad parent? No.
Is it because my child is trying to manipulate me? No.
Is it because they’re being naughty? No.

So what is it?

Brain development. Plain and simple.

A human is not born with a fully developed brain. A newborn is born with just what is needed to survive. The ability to regulate body temperature, cry to alert caregivers, and to breathe. They’re not even very good at regulating their own temperatures or breathing in the beginning. This is why skin to skin contact is so beneficial for newborns and premature babies. Being next to an adult helps them regulate all those things that they’re not able to regulate yet themselves.

Once they’ve conquered the ability to remain alive they’re on to the next level of development. Physical movement. Again their abilities in this area are less than stellar. Thus they need to be carried somehow. Baby carrier. Stroller. Once they’ve developed the ability to regulate their muscles and move they don’t need as much support anymore. (Although you still wouldn’t trust them to cut up their own toast with a sharp knife because their fine motor skills are still developing.)

Emotions. Same thing. As they are developing the child needs additional support and the proximity of an adult caregiver to help them self regulate. They might nurse, they might snuggle, they might bounce in the adult’s arms. This helps bring them back down as they are learning to deal with emotions.

Emotions become easier to cope with as the left side of the brain (logic) and the “upper” brain functions (self control and long term thinking) develop. The hemisphere of the brain dedicated to logic tends to develop slowly across childhood, and the “upper” functions? They’re not done developing until the child is in his or her 20’s.

So a one year old? They’re a small physically incapable human being that has most of the emotions of an adult and none of the logical ability or self control to manage those emotions. They also have no ability to communicate what they are thinking or feeling or to use words to express what they are feeling. What does that LOOK like? It looks like a screaming, flailing upset child. Aka a fit.

But we’re told as a society that when our child “throws a fit” we should isolate them and that they are “being manipulative”. So instead of providing our physical comfort to help them regulate we isolate them and get irritated because we are “being manipulated” and baby picks up on the irritation if it’s there. (I get irritated sometimes too even though I know all the science and facts and reasons.)

So not only is baby upset that their entire world just broke (they lack the understanding of context and the fact that a broken piece of bread isn’t equal to death and doom and destruction) but NOW their caregiver is angry or upset and may be avoiding them.

Look at adults and how adults handle strong overwhelming emotions. We have words. We have context. We have a pretty decent ability to understand the “scale” of things. Our brains are fully developed and we have the CAPACITY to self regulate. Adults sometimes break things. They experience road rage. They become irrational. Doubt that? Look at your emotional state when your child is throwing a tantrum. Are you the paragon of even temperament and inner peace? Or do you sometimes have a VERY HARD TIME COPING?

Understanding what helps US cope can help us help our children cope.

Feeling supported, feeling listened to, being given the space for the emotional storm to pass, being held in a comfortable calm set of supportive arms, not being yelled at, not being treated as though your emotions are manipulative, being given coping tools, having words put to your experiences, developing an understanding of how things work, being able to communicate, not feeling dismissed, having a “full cup” emotionally, not being bored, not being overstimulate, not being overtired, not being hungry, not being stressed out, etc.

Is life perfect? No. But we can try and understand how to create an environment that doesn’t over-reach our child’s abilities to self regulate. And if our toddler throws a fit? We can recognize it for what it is. Overwhelm. It’s simply no different from when a toddler tries to run and does a face-plant instead.

They’re still developing the emotional ability to cope with life.

2 thoughts on “Why’s My One Year Old Throwing a Fit?

  1. Awesome article! Every parent should read this. My wife passed this to me and she’s never let me down with a bad article. It’s funny when you mentioned the face-plant. Our 1.5 year old is already a stunt double lol.

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