You know what I’m talking about – the phenomenon of young children suddenly going limp as a (quite effective) form of protest.
It makes it nearly impossible to pick them up off the floor (how did they double in weight?), buckle them into their carseat or stroller, or make an escape from wherever they’re embarrassing you at that particular moment.
I’ve often wondered where they learn it and how. Like, is there some kind of toddler convention or seminar we’re unaware of, when these time-honored tactics for getting their way, expressing their rage, or inconveniencing their parents are handed down from kindergartners to preschoolers?
It turns out no (though I’m still suspicious) – there’s a scientific why and how to the whole thing, so hold onto your hat.
According to child psychologist Tamar Chansky, there could be a couple of reasons behind the action.
“So the going full-on limp noodle may be in part out of fatigue, but it’s also when toddlers are out of ideas for showing you how much they don’t want to – fill in blank – eat that yucky broccoli, buckle in the car, go to bed.”
These types of tantrums usually start around 12 months and persist until around age 3, when kids develop better language skills and better control over their reactions and emotions.
Anything – or nothing – could trigger the behavior. Sometimes kids are just feeling frustrated in general but don’t have the vocabulary to express themselves verbally.
So they become a noodle.
Licensed mental health counselor Jennifer Daffon says it could also be a sensory meltdown – a last resort, their body’s response to their emotions.
“At the point where kiddos are falling over and are completely unresponsive to their parent or caregiver, their brains have been hijacked by their amygdala. Once it takes over, the thinking part of the brain is essentially getting overridden – this is why negotiating with your tantruming kiddo at this point is useless.”
In a nutshell, when your kid’s brain is overcome by stress, it sends a distress signal that likely begins with crying. Stress hormones flood their bodies, emotions rise, and rational thinking goes out the window. They freeze up, and fall down.
You can forget reasoning at this stage (let’s be honest; that’s always kind of a crapshoot, anyway), but giving your kid a hug could actually help – the physical touch triggers oxytocin, which will help them get their emotions back under control.
You should also try to help by naming their feelings: “I can see you’re feeling frustrated/sad/overwhelmed, but once you’re feeling better we can try to work it out together.”
“Notice that nowhere have you stated that you’re giving into the tantrum – you’re simply giving your kiddo some space to let the thinking part back into gear, and letting them know the huge wave of emotion will pass, and you’re here to help make sure it does,” says Daffon.
As far as why they’re so heavy? Well, since they’re no longer using their muscles to hold themselves together, they’ve become literal dead weight.
Count it as leg or back day – at least someone is winning.