Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are a way a young child lets out strong emotions before she is able to express them in socially acceptable ways. Although a child may seem totally out of control, these fits of rage, stomping, screaming, and throwing herself to the floor are a normal part of childhood development. Temper tantrums often occur only with a parent.

Temper tantrums often begin at about 1 year of age and continue until age 4 or 5 with a peak at age 2 and 3. They often diminish as a child becomes more able to communicate his or her wants and needs, although some children continue to have tantrums even when they are verbal.

What causes temper tantrums?

Tantrums occur for many reasons.  Temper tantrums are worse and occur more often when a child is hungry, tired or sick. Some reasons children have temper tantrums include the following:

  • Are frustrated
  • Are told no
  • Are in a transition (such as from daycare to home), even if it is to go to a fun activity
  • Are trying to get attention
  • Aren’t getting their needs met immediately and become impatient
  • Have something taken away from them
  • Don’t get what they want
  • Have not learned all the words to tell you what they are feeling or want and this upsets them
  • Do not understand what you want them to do
  • Are tired or hungry
  • Are worried or upset
  • Feel stress in the home

How to prevent temper tantrums

Although temper tantrums sometimes happen without warning, parents can often tell when a child is becoming upset. Knowing the situations when your child is more likely to have a tantrum and thinking ahead may help. An example is not letting your child become overtired or hungry. Some suggestions for preventing or minimizing temper tantrums include the following:

  • Stick to routines for meals and sleep times. Avoid long outings, delayed meals, and naps.
  • Be reasonable about what to expect from your child, and do not expect your child to be perfect.
  • Pay lots of attention to your child when she is being good.
  • Prepare your child for changes or events by talking about them before they happen.
  • Let your child know your rules and stick to them.

How to respond during a temper tantrum

The following are helpful hints regarding the most appropriate ways to respond during your child's temper tantrum:

  • Stay calm.
  • Ignore the child until he or she is calmer. Keep doing whatever you were doing prior to the tantrum occurring.
  • Do not hit or spank your child.
  • Do not give in to the tantrum. When parents give in, children learn to use inappropriate behavior to get their way.
  • Do not bribe your child to stop the tantrum. The child then learns to act inappropriately to get a reward.
  • Remove potentially dangerous objects from your child or your child's path.
  • Use time-out for a short period to allow the child to get back in control.

What else should parents know about temper tantrums?

Temper tantrums generally happen less often as children get older. Children should play and act normally between tantrums. However, consult your child's doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Temper tantrums are severe, last long, or happen very often.
  • Your child has a lot of trouble talking and cannot let you know what she needs.
  • Temper tantrums continue or get worse after 4 to 5 years of age.
  • Your child harms herself or others during tantrums.