Temper tantrums are a common and normal behavior in children between two and three years of age. This behavior is a normal steppingstone towards a child's independence and development of self identity. children naturally challenge rules and limitations without regard for their own safety and well-being. It is the parents' job to redirect children who exhibit inappropriate behaviors and remove them from situations that may place them in danger. Children who have seen their own desires thwarted often react with disappointment and intense emotion. Young children lack the capacity to effectively manage and control these emotions. During a temper tantrum a child may drop to the floor, cry and scream uncontrollably, bang their heads, kick their feet, or pound their hands. Some children may act violently by throwing things, trying to hit other people, or destroying property. It is often difficult, tiring, or embarrassing to deal with temper tantrums, especially in public. Nonetheless, it is important for parents to anticipate temper tantrums and have a plan in place for coping with the situation.
What is a temper tantrum?
If you have to ask this question, you must not be a parent of a small child! I'm only kidding, of course. A temper tantrum is an extreme expression of frustration, anger, or fear. These outbursts of extreme behavior occur most commonly in children between two and three years of age. The behavior episode may last a few seconds, or even half an hour ( or longer) in some cases. A child in a temper tantrum is and her or his own world and cannot be easily reasoned with, spoken to, or consoled. It is often best to move the child to a safe area and allow them to calm on their own. Speaking to them softly and calmly may help. Yelling or applying punishment is unlikely to be helpful, for at this time, it is impossible to make a child more upset than she already is.
Who has temper tantrums?
Temper tantrums are most common in children aged 2 to 3 years but they may occur at any time between one and five years of life. Temper tantrums typically taper off by three or four years of age as children develop communication skills and can verbalize their frustrations. Children with developmental delays or an autism spectrum disorder may continue to have tantrums into later childhood. Both boy and girl children are equally likely to have temper tantrums. Children older than five years of age may continue to have emotional frustrations but these typically manifest as verbal outbursts, or oppositional-defiant behavior.
What causes temper tantrums?
Temper tantrums are a normal part of childhood development. In the first few years of life children are very self-centered and are unable to appreciate the perspective of other individuals. They do not understand the purpose of limitations and cannot appreciate many safety issues. Toddlers may become frustrated or angry due to immature communication skills. Young children do not have the capacity to articulate their feelings or walk away from a frustrating situation.
When are temper tantrums not normal?
Naturally, there are normal variations in temper tantrum patterns. However, some features may suggest abnormal behavior:
- occurring after five years of age
- more than five per day
- persistent negative mood or frustration
- recurrent tantrums at school or in public
- destruction of personal property
- harm to self or others
- other associated behavioral problems
What are some potential reasons for abnormal temper tantrums?
Home environment issues:
- verbal arguments
- physical or verbal abuse
- domestic violence
- drug or alcohol abuse
- inappropriate parental expectations
Child centered factors:
- developmental delay
- learning disabilities
- autism spectrum disorders
- hearing loss
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- behavior disorders
How will my physician evaluate temper tantrums?
Your physician will likely want to know the circumstances surrounding the onset of temper tantrums, how the behaviors manifest, and how the family responds to the situation. Questions such as, "How often do they occur?" and "When do they occur?" will help your doctor determine if the behavior is normal or abnormal. It may be difficult for your doctor to understand the full scope of the situation in a short pediatric clinic interview. You may want to videotape one of the episodes and show it to your doctor.
Are there any necessary tests for temper tantrums?
In general, no. If your doctor suspects other medical issues or problems he or she may choose to do further testing.
How should I manage temper tantrums?
Punishment is generally not helpful during a temper tantrum. It is nearly impossible to upset a child more than they already are during a tantrum. Parents should have a strategy for dealing with behavior problems before they occur. Parents should remain calm. Most temper tantrums will resolve without any intervention after a few minutes. Some strategies for coping with temper tantrums are listed below:
Ignore the tantrum - one purpose of tantrum behavior is to gain attention. It no attention is gained and there is no audience, children are likely to stop.
Provide support - letting your child know that you understand her frustration may help her calm down. Nonetheless, children should not receive positive reinforcement for bad behaviors. If a child is having a tantrum because you would not buy them a toy, you should not change your mind because of the child's behavior. If you do change your mind, the child should receive the reward at another time.
Redirection - children are easily distractible. You may be able to redirect your child's attention towards another person or object without rewarding the behavior.
Relocation - moving your child out of public display and away from people is often helpful. For example, if you are in the grocery store you can leave your grocery cart and take the child to the restroom for her to calm down.
Holding your child - holding or hugging your child may be helpful by giving her a sense of love and security.
Seek assistance - if you find that you are significantly frustrated, you can always ask for other people to help you even if it means watching your child for a few moments while you take a break to calm yourself.
Prevention - many tantrums can be prevented by involving your child in decision-making and simple tasks. In the grocery store, you can ask your child if she prefers the yellow or green noodle box and have her place it in the cart. Simple tasks will give your child a sense of involvement and will help prevent boredom.
Understanding - almost every parent has been through this behavior with their children. Hang in there! You are not alone!
How long will my child have temper tantrums?
Children with normal development will outgrow temper tantrums by about four years of age. Outbursts of emotions are common in any age group, however, the extreme nature of emotional outbursts associated with temper tantrums should diminish with age.
Last Updated (Friday, 24 February 2012 18:16)