All behavior is communication. Our children are always trying to get their needs met. Sometimes they are successful and sometimes they are not. A lot of the time, our children need us to help them translate their behavior for them. When our child is yelling at us, throwing things around, and acting out of control, they need us to help them identify their unmet need and help them get it met.
A primary need that all children have is their need for connection. When children are feeling disconnected from their caregivers, they can act out and it will escalate until their need is met. They want to get our attention because they want us to help them feel connected.
I have a perfect example of how this can play in out in real life. Today, my daughter was feeling disconnected and upset and she began calling me "stupid mommy." My first knee-jerk reaction was to become upset. Since I am reading Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen, I immediately put what I've learned from the book into practice. I translated her behavior into "Mommy, I am feeling disconnected and yucky and I need your help!" I went over to her, got down on her level, and ask her if she wanted a hug. She looked at me and said "Yeah..." We walked over to the couch and I made sure to cuddle with her for a while and speak with her about how she was feeling. I read a book to her and made sure she felt appreciated, loved, and listened to. This seemed to do the trick today.
Of course, there will be times when a simple hug or special one-on-one time either won't help or you don't have time for it. We always have a couple seconds to look into our child's eyes and connect with them briefly. It is worth a shot to try to connect with your child even for a couple of seconds when they are acting out.
Every time our children act out, it is helpful to see beyond the behavior and always assume the best. Assume that your child is prosocial and loving and that they are acting out because they are overwhelmed by an unmet need. Acting out is not a character flaw or part of their personality. If they could act better, they would. Children are made to fit into their social group and to love their attachment figures. They need help to express themselves and get their needs met. That's where we come in. We can be their translators.