Kid working out

Why Does My Kid Freak Out? Read a kid working out with its founders here, or see new stories in the Human Interest section.

The totally legitimate reasons your animal child just threw spaghetti in your face. Jason Good’s blog post 46 Reasons My Three Year Old Might Be Freaking Out. The first three possibilities: His sock is on wrong. His shirt has a tag on it. What is it with toddlers and losing their minds all the time? And it’s not only normal, but reasonable. As five experts on child psychology recently explained to me, toddlers’ irrational behaviors are a totally understandable reflection of their inner turmoil and frustrations.

In sum, their world is turning upside down and they don’t yet have the skills to handle it. The toddler life is not actually as cushy as it seems. Sure, I’d like 12 hours of sleep a night and all my meals prepared for me, thanks. It’s no coincidence that kids start having tantrums around the time that parents start enforcing rules.

When you say no, sweetie, you can’t have that butcher knife, your 20-month-old has no idea that you are depriving her of this awesomely shiny contraption for her own safety. We can identify and label the emotion we’re feeling, which, research suggests, goes a long way toward quelling and controlling it. Our ability to label feelings stems in part from our excellent language skills, which young toddlers don’t have yet. Another reality of the toddler brain: The frontal lobe, which is responsible for planning, logic, reasoning, working memory and self-control, is vastly underdeveloped. They can also have a skewed sense of cause-and-effect, developing a paralyzing fear of the bathtub because what if they go down the drain, too?

If it sounds like I’m characterizing your beautiful, special, way-above-average toddler as animal-like, that’s because I am. The caveman analogy helps to explain yet another issue plaguing toddlers, Karp says: They are very understimulated. It was a sensory-rich environment: smells, the fresh air, shadows, birds, grass under your feet. Given all this, is it really that surprising that tantrums happen as frequently as they do? Melinda Wenner Moyer is a science writer based in Cold Spring, New York, and is Slate’s science-based parenting columnist. Follow the link for more information.