Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
March 26, 2024 ·  6 min read

Toddlers, Meltdowns and Brain Development: Why Parents Need To Ditch Traditional Discipline

“Every day in a hundred ways our children ask, “Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do I matter?” Their behavior often reflects our response.” L.R. Knost

A different perspective from what we’ve always assumed.

Those little munchkins are adorable. They add a good measure of sunshine to anyone’s life, and their self-expression is as real and as unpretentious as it can get. Unfortunately, the happiness they bring comes with a measure of headaches and stress. Raising children can be tough, and many people probably wish they could just skip over toddlerhood. After all, toddlers have a reputation for being fussy, cranky, and demanding while navigating through their ‘terrible twos’. It may be hard to deal with, and it may test your patience, but there is one thing to remember: they may just be vastly misunderstood.

People (especially non-parents) always judge the parents of toddlers who throw tantrums at the slightest provocation, stating that they are ‘spoiling’ their kids way too much. Many parents feel as though they are not doing a good job with their kids at this stage. These children cling to you and demand a lot of attention, and they don’t always care about what they are saying and to whom they are saying it. Let’s admit it.

Toddlers are difficult to control.

But is it really what we think it is? Annoying baby tantrums?

Many parents don’t know this, but they are actually raising their kids the way a farmer would groom a plant. It’s difficult to accept, but it’s the plain truth. Many parents can’t wrap their minds around the fact that even as toddlers, their kids are individuals with special needs and peculiar wants. The parents end up doing everything based on their own desires, citing the fact that giving the kids what they need would be considered “over-pampering”.

Traditional discipline revolves around mainstream parenting. It’s often referred to as ‘traditional horse-breaking’. If a child throws a deafening and annoying tantrum, he/she could be given punishments like time-outs, face the wall, go sit on the steps, no toys for days, and even ‘jail time’.

When these tactics don’t work, the parents would resort to bribing the children to make them happy, which may only the compound problem to which the solution was applied. They’d become conditioned to the fact that whenever they want a treat, all they’ll need to do is blow up in a volcano-like tantrum.

It’s all very hectic to try to comprehend, but we can start from the fact that toddlers are at an age where their brains are developing rapidly. A lot of biochemical processes are taking places, releasing hormones that are responsible for several mood displays and behaviors these little ones put up [1].

Babies are helpless and dependent because their brains aren’t ready yet…

…to face the travails of responsibility and self-care. Human babies have some of the most underdeveloped brains in the animal kingdom. Compared to other mammal babies, ours are major late bloomers [2]. This is due to the fact that they’ll be under parental care and nursing for a good period of their lives. Many animal off-springs are able to fend for themselves as early as a few hours after birth. They have well-developed motor functions and sharp instincts at birth, and their brains are almost as developed at birth as they would be in adulthood.

Modern science believes that the human brain doesn’t stop developing until the age of 25, having been at only 25% of the full size at birth [3]. They’ll have to be fully dependent on their parents for everything. If they need something and they don’t exactly know how to articulate it, they’ll end up throwing a tantrum in frustration.

So, cut your toddlers some slack. Their brains are developing and they are not able to comprehend all of our rules and societal norms.

Toddlers don’t have fun throwing tantrums

Many would conclude that their kids are throwing tantrums to emotionally blackmail or manipulate them. This simply isn’t true. These little kids can produce their fair share of stress hormones daily [4]. There’s actually a lot of difficulty in figuring out new things, getting adjusted to new environments, wanting to do or say something but not knowing how to go about it, meeting new people, and generally, just growing up. It’s stressful, and the build-up of these hormones can cause them to lash out. This is why most toddlers feel more relaxed after a major crying fest.

During neurological development, a toddler’s brain has twice the number of synapses as it would in adulthood [6]. Synapses are connecting points between the billions of brain cells. Half of these pathways would be discarded by the time a child’s brain is almost fully developed, a process known as synaptic pruning [5].

These excess synapses produced in the first 3 years cause the brain to be very responsive to external input [6]. This, in turn, could affect their ability to properly regulate their emotions, feelings, judgments, and decision making. Sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it?

It’s necessary to expose children to several healthy activities that will help them to properly develop their brains.

Here’s why Parents May Need to Ditch Traditional Discipline

Those annoying tantrums are actually healthy and essential for development. They are not a reflection of your parenting skills because they don’t happen out of the child’s will. The child’s brain is going through stressful developmental processes, and tantrums are more or less a byproduct. What reflects on your character as a parent is your response to the tantrum-throwing. Do you get riled up and time the kid out, or do you soothe her and try to find out exactly what she needs at that moment?

These tantrums can actually help you to form close bonds with your toddlers. Showing them compassion, love, and affection when they are distressed will make them trust and love you more.

Holding them close and soothing them in times of confusion will help them become more attuned to managing their emotions as adults. Children who are punished, yelled at or locked up when they throw tantrums or misbehave may experience stress that can end up affecting them negatively later in life [6]. If they are treated harshly when they are being kids, the risk of growing up with emotional issues such as insecurity and social anxiety increase. This is not to say that children do not need discipline, but just the right kind.

It’s important to be patient with your children during these few years of toddlerhood. By the age of 6 or 7, they’ll find it easier to manage their emotions and keep their nerves under control.


  1. The Science of Brain and Biological Development: Implications for Mental Health Research, Practice and Policy. Spenrath et al. PMC. Retrieved from November 2011.
  2. Compared To Other Baby Animals, Human Infants Are Late Bloomers. Ashley Hamer. Curiosity. Retrieved from September 13, 2017.
  3. Brain Maturity Extends Well Beyond Teen Years. Admin. NPR. Retrieved from October 10, 2011.
  5. What Is Synaptic Pruning? Karen Gill. Health Line. Retrieved from January 3, 2018.
  6. Baby’s Brain Begins Now: Conception to Age 3. Admin. Urban Child Institute. Retrieved from No date available.