Trust Falls and Rage-o-Meters: Classifying Toddler Tantrums

To the man who hit on me today while my son was going into a paroxysm of total toddler rage: Are you insane? Who does that? Why are you attempting to make small talk–as my son screams while attempting a death roll in his stroller? What part of that made you think it was a good time to hit on me?

But that’s not what I really wanted to share today. What’s been on my mind lately is my son’s swiftly changing personality and temperament.

As he nears the 1 1/2 year mark, the frequency and level of tantrums has begun to spike. He still isn’t very verbal, so that compounds his frustration and often leads to the “Trust Fall”: a backwards flinging of the body without concern for whatever may break the fall (e.g., cement, a table corner, a wall…). The inevitable injury that occurs after the Trust Fall automatically increases the level of intensity on the Rage-o-Meter, which is much like rating a tornado except this is based on the Toddler Rage Scale (TR).


A typical tantrum begins at a TR-1, quickly escalating up to a TR-5, which may even involve real tears, throwing objects (a toddler’s aim becomes wonderfully accurate at this level), and pinching, biting or scratching. Rarely, you may witness a TR-6, but this level is only theoretical. TR-5 is really the highest the TR Scale goes–anything beyond this level is simply too heinous to attempt to classify. You just have to accept that you’ve reached one of Dante’s circles of Hell and remind yourself that your toddler’s rage will pass just as quickly as it arrived.

Today, my son went TR-6 on me.

This didn’t go down when Mr. Creepy McBad-Timing saw us walking through a shopping center. It actually happened earlier in the day at home. I thought he was grouchy because he was hungry, so I fed him. This only angered him more. So I offered him some alternative food choices in an attempt to appease my angry little god. He became incensed, swiping all of his food options off his tray and screaming until his face turned red. So I removed the tray from his high chair–which only further enraged him.

We went back and forth like this for a minute while I tried to figure out what was making him so angry. But the only thing that was clear was that the Rage-o-Meter was climbing. Between his guttural screams, tears and general rage all directed at me, I realized that I had in fact entered a circle of Hell.


No meltdown here, folks. Just some good ol’ fashioned noisemaking in the car.

But his rage wasn’t passing. After a full 20 minutes of this, I finally asked him if he wanted his “paci” (his pacifier is usually reserved for bedtime only, but this was an emergency). He indicated with a weary nod that he wanted it, and as soon as he popped it in, he threw his arms around my neck and rested his head on my shoulder. The tantrum had subsided, and my sweet boy had returned. I just knelt there and hugged him for a little while.

TR-6’s are exhausting work. Shortly afterwards, he fell asleep in my arms. He wound up sleeping for a good hour and a half.

As I ruminated on all that had happened, I had an ah-ha moment: My son has been uncharacteristically picky about his food for the last few days, picking at his meals and barely eating, all the while loudly expressing his frustration and clamoring for his father whenever he’s home. My son has also sprouted some molars. Hmmm… Could it be that my son is simply teething?

When he woke up from his nap, I gave him a peace offering of yogurt and Motrin. He accepted both gladly. Later, he scarfed down spaghetti and rejected the meatballs. Okay, son. Soft foods and extra love and patience it is. And wine for mom.


5 Responses to “Trust Falls and Rage-o-Meters: Classifying Toddler Tantrums”
  1. *the clouds part, a ray of light falls on the yogurt, a chorus of angels singing Handel break the silence, a cork is squeegeed out of a bottle.*

  2. Valerie says:

    Oh my word, this post is awesome! Seriously laughing out loud. 😀
    …and here I thought only *my* toddler did this stuff! 😉

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