What are temper tantrums?
Temper tantrums are a way a young child lets out strong emotions before he or 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 himself or herself to
the floor are a normal part of childhood development. Temper tantrums often happen
only with a parent. They are a way a child communicates his or her feelings. Parents
can learn from their child by understanding the situation that caused the temper tantrum
Temper tantrums often begin at about 1 year of age and continue until age 2 to 3.
They begin to diminish as a child becomes more able to communicate his or her wants
What causes temper tantrums?
As a young child learns more and becomes more independent, he or she wants to do more
than he or she can physically and emotionally manage. This is frustrating to the child
and the frustrations are expressed in a variety of ways. Temper tantrums are worse
and happen more often when a child is hungry, tired, or sick. Some reasons children
have temper tantrums include the following:
Want to be on their own, and get upset when they can't do what they want
Are in a transition (such as from day care to home)
Are trying to get attention to test the rules
Have something taken away from them
Have not learned all the words to tell you what they are feeling or want and this
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
Distract your child with a toy he or she is allowed to have.
Be reasonable about what to expect from your child, and do not expect your child to
Help your child to avoid frustration. 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:
Ignore the child until he or she is calmer. Keep doing whatever you were doing before
the tantrum happens.
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, talk with your child's healthcare
provider if any of the following happen:
Temper tantrums are severe, last long, or happen very often.
Your child has a lot of trouble talking and cannot let you know what he or she needs.
Temper tantrums continue or get worse after 3 to 4 years of age.
Your child has signs of illness along with temper tantrums or holds his or her breath
to cause fainting.
Your child harms himself or herself or others during tantrums.