If you have a young child, you probably know what temper tantrums are. Experts define them as sudden, unplanned displays of anger or other emotions. During a tantrum, children often whine, cry, or scream. They may also swing their arms and legs wildly or hold their breath.
Anyone can have temper tantrums. But they are most common in children ages 1 to 4 years.
Dealing with tantrums may be unpleasant or embarrassing. But remember, tantrums are most intense at the start, and they usually last only 2 minutes or less. And most children stop having tantrums by age 4 or 5, when they learn healthy ways to handle strong emotions.
A tantrum is a normal response when something blocks a young child from gaining independence or learning a skill. The child may not yet have the skills to express strong emotions in other ways. For example, a temper tantrum may happen when a child gets frustrated because he can't button a shirt. Or a child may get upset when she is told it's time for bed but she wants to stay up.
Children are more likely to have tantrums when they are afraid, overtired, or uncomfortable.
As a parent, your behavior matters too. Your child is more likely to have temper tantrums if you react too strongly to poor behavior or give in to the child's demands.
If you sense that a tantrum is coming, you may be able to stop it.
After a tantrum starts, ignoring it may work best. Try the following:
After a tantrum is over:
If your child has a lot of tantrums, time-out may be an option. Time-out works best for children who can understand why it is being used. This is usually around age 2 or 3 years.
For a time-out, you send or put your child someplace safe, such as a chair in a hallway, for a few minutes. This gives the child time to calm down. It also teaches the child that having a temper tantrum is not acceptable behavior.
You may be able to prevent some temper tantrums or at least reduce how often they happen.
Children who still have tantrums after the age of 4 may need help learning to deal with their emotions. Tantrums that continue or start during the school years may be a sign of learning problems or other issues that the child may need help with.
Some children have temper tantrums that last longer and are more severe than normal. They may destroy things or hurt themselves or other people. This violent behavior may be a sign of a more serious problem.
Talk with a doctor if:
It may be helpful to keep a record of your child's behavior for a few days before your doctor visit. This will help the doctor assess your child's behavior and decide if testing is needed.
Other Works Consulted
- Albrecht SJ, et al. (2003). Common behavioral dilemmas of the school-aged child. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 50: 841–857.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Behavior. In SP Shelov, RE Hannemann, eds., Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 4th ed., chap. 18, pp. 565–586. New York: Bantam.
- Goldson E, Reynolds A (2011). Child development and behavior. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed., pp. 64–103 New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Stein MT (2011). Difficult behavior. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 335–338. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Walter HJ, DeMaso DR (2011). Disruptive behavior disorders. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 96–100. Philadelphia: Saunders.
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