Overview Of Temper Tantrums
Temper tantrums are emotional outbursts that typically occur in response to unmet desires or needs. Tantrums are most common in toddlers and young children. However, they may also occur in older individuals who are either unable to express their needs or unable to control their emotions.
Tantrums are normal, and usually begin around 12-18 months of age. They often worsen between the ages of 2-3, hence the popular phrase “terrible twos.” Temper tantrums should naturally taper off around the age of 4, and should become rare. If they continue to older ages, it is often a sign of some type of problem.
Hunger, tiredness, or sickness are factors that can increase the frequency or severity of tantrums.
When Temper Tantrums Occur
Tantrums are a normal part of a child’s life.
But with that in mind, common advice for parents dealing with their child’s temper tantrums include:
- Staying calm, and avoiding escalation of the situation. Do not hit or shout at the child, and do not give in to their demands
- Attempting a distraction of the child, such as suggesting other enjoyed activities
- If the child’s tantrum is outside the house, try to go to a quiet area, such as a restroom or the car
- Tantrums are chiefly attention-seeking behaviors. So, the best course of action is often to ignore the child until they are “done” with their behavior. If at home or in a safe location, walk away from the child. If they notice that their behavior is being ignored, and that their tactics are not working, they will typically stop much faster. Of course, this is only an option if the tantrum is happening in a safe location, or if the child isn’t being actively destructive to nearby objects or themselves
Preventing Temper Tantrums
Common methods for preventing temper tantrums can include:
- When asking the child to something, attempt to make it sound friendly, and not like an order
- Make sure the child follows a routine, such as eating and sleeping at usual times
- Ensure the child has at least 15-20 minutes of quiet time per day, even if they no longer take naps
- Let the child make choices, so long as the choices are unimportant. For example, allowing them to pick whatever shoes they want. However, do not negotiate with the child over matters of safety. For example, seat belts in the car or not playing in the street
- Offer as many choices for the child as possible, as children who feel independent will often follow rules more easily
- Do not offer a choice when one does not actually exist
When To Seek Help
Parents should seek advice with their health care provider if they don’t feel that they can manage their child’s temper tantrums. This is especially true if the parent feels as if they have difficulties with managing their anger, or if they feel that they might respond to their child’s outbursts with physical punishments in a moment of frustration or anger.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents contact their pediatrician or primary care provider about their child’s temper tantrums if:
- Tantrums worsen after age 4, instead of tapering off as they should
- The child also suffers from nightmares, a sudden reversal of their toilet training, stomachaches, headaches, refusal to eat or sleep, anxiety, or excessive clinging to their parents
- They tend to hold their breath during tantrums, especially if it results in fainting
- The child injures themselves or others, or if they destroy property during tantrums