Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are unpleasant, emotional outbursts and behaviors toddlers display when their needs and desires are not being met. These outbursts usually begin after the first year of life and are the worst between the ages of 2 and 3. Most children begin to outgrow temper tantrums by age 4. They know more words by this age. They also have started to learn self-control. Temper tantrums can be frustrating and stressful for you and for your child. However, they are a normal part of growing up. 

CAUSES

Between the ages of 1 and 3 years of age, children start having many strong emotions, but they have not yet learned how to handle these emotions. They have not learned enough words to express their feelings. They also want to have control and exert their independence, but they lack the ability to express this. These conditions are very frustrating to a child. Children may have temper tantrums because they are:

  • Looking for attention.

  • Feeling frustrated.

  • Overly tired.

  • Hungry.

  • Uncomfortable.

  • Sick.

SYMPTOMS

All children are different, so not all temper tantrums are alike. The child's natural disposition or normal mood (temperament) makes a difference. So does the way adults react to the temper tantrums. Some children have tantrums every day. For other children, temper tantrums are rare. During a temper tantrum the child might:

  • Cry.

  • Say no.

  • Scream.

  • Whine.

  • Stomp their feet.

  • Hold his or her breath.

  • Kick or hit.

  • Throw things.

PREVENTION AND CONTROL

Adults should remember that temper tantrums are normal and not their fault. Almost all children have them. Children cannot control themselves at age 2 or 3. Do not use physical force to punish a child for a temper tantrum. This will just make the child more angry and frustrated. To prevent temper tantrums:

  • Know your child's limits. Watch to see if the child is getting bored, tired, hungry, or frustrated. If so, take a break. Change the activity. Take care of the child's needs.

  • Give the child simple choices. Children at this age want to have some control over their life. Let them make choices. Just keep their options simple.

  • Be consistent. Do not let children do something one day and then stop them from doing it another day. This is especially true for anything involving safety. 

  • Give the child plenty of positive attention. Praise good behavior.

  • Help the child learn how to express his or her feeling in words.

To gain control once a temper tantrum starts:

  • Pay attention. Sometimes temper tantrums are children's way of telling you that they are hungry, tired, or uncomfortable.

  • Stay calm. Temper tantrums often become bigger problems if the adult also loses control.

  • Distract. Children have short attention spans. Draw their attention away from the problem area. Try a different activity or toy. Move to a different setting. If a prolonged tantrum occurs in a public place relocating to a bathroom or returning to the car until the situation is under control may help.

  • Ignore. Small tantrums over small frustrations may end faster if you do not react to them. However, do not ignore a tantrum if the child is damaging property, or if the child's action is putting others in danger.

  • Call a time out. This should be done if a tantrum lasts too long, or if the child or others might get hurt. Take the child to a quiet place to calm down. One minute of time out for each year of age is a good way to determine time out length.

  • Do not give in. If you do, you are giving the child a reward for the tantrum.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF

  • Tantrums get worse after age 4.

  • Your child has tantrums more often, and they are becoming harder to control.

  • Your child holds his or her breath until he or she passes out.

  • Tantrums have become violent. Your child or others may be hurt, or property may be damaged.

  • Tantrums are making you feel anger toward the child.

  • The child also has other problems, such as:

  • Night terrors or nightmares.

  • Fear of strangers.

  • Loss of toilet training skills.

  • Problems with eating or sleeping.

  • Headaches.

  • Stomachaches.

  • Your child is becoming destructive or injures himself or others during tantrums.

  • Your child displays a high degree of anxiety or clings to you.