What Are Temper Tantrums?
Temper tantrums are emotional outbursts of anger and frustration.
Tantrums typically begin at about 12-18 months and reach their peak during the âterrible twos.â This is the period in child development when children start to gain a sense of self and assert their independence from their parents. It is also a time when children canât yet speak well enough to make their needs known. This combination is a âperfect stormâ for tantrums. Fatigue, hunger, and illness can make tantrums worse or more frequent. In most cases, tantrums begin to wane over time and usually disappear by age four.
When your child is throwing a tantrum, you may be tempted to think itâs your fault. It isnât. Tantrums are a normal part of childhood development, and they donât occur because youâve been a bad parent or because youâve done something wrong.
What Are the Signs of a Tantrum?
Your child may display one or more of the following behaviors during a tantrum:
crying, screaming, and yelling
kicking and hitting
holding their breath
tensing and thrashing the body
What Is the Best Way to Respond to a Tantrum?
Stay calm. Itâs important to remain composed. If possible, donât let the tantrum interrupt what youâre doing, and donât react with threats or anger. This lets your child know that tantrums are not an effective means of getting your attention or getting what he or she wants. Wait for a quiet time after the tantrum has subsided to discuss your childâs behavior.
Ignore the tantrum. If possible, pretend that nothingâs happening. If your child is in a safe place and you are finding it difficult to ignore him or her, leave the room. However, certain behaviors should not be ignored, such as kicking or hitting others, throwing objects that could cause damage or injury, or screaming for extended periods of time. In these situations, remove your child from the environment, along with any objects that could be dangerous, and verbally reinforce that such behaviors are unacceptable.
Remove your child from the situation. If youâre home and your child will not calm down, try a time-out. Take them to another room and remove anything that might distract him or her. If youâre out in public, ignore the tantrum unless your child is in danger of hurting himself or herself, or someone else. In that case, the best response is stop what youâre doing, take your child, and leave.
Try distractions. Sometimes it works to offer your child another activity or object, such as a book or toy, or to make a silly face.
Acknowledge your childâs frustration. Letting your child know that you understand his or her emotions can sometimes help the child calm down, especially if he or she is looking for attention.
Show approval when your child behaves well. This will reinforce good behavior.
What Is the Best Way to Prevent Tantrums?
The following strategies may help prevent tantrums:
Establish a routine. A consistent routine or schedule lets your child know what to expect and gives them a sense of security.
Be a role model. Children look up to their parents and are constantly observing their behavior. If your child sees you handling your anger and frustration calmly, they will be more likely to mimic your behavior when experiencing these feelings.
Give your child choices. When appropriate, give your child several options and allow them to make choices. This will give them the feeling that they have some control over their circumstances.
Make sure your child is eating right and getting enough sleep. This will help prevent tantrums caused by fatigue and irritability.
Pick your battles. Donât fight over trivial or unimportant things, such as which clothes your child prefers to wear. Try to limit the number of times you say the word âno.â
Watch your tone of voice. If you want your child to do something, make it sound like an invitation, rather than a demand.
When Is It Appropriate to Consult the Doctor?
Tantrums are a normal part of growing up and they will most likely go away with time. However, if temper tantrums get worse or you feel that you are unable to manage them, you may want to talk to your doctor.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you consult your childâs pediatrician if:
tantrums get worse after age four
tantrums are violent enough to injure your child or someone else
your child routinely destroys property
your child holds his or her breath and faints
your child complains of a stomach ache or headache or becomes anxious
you are frustrated and unsure of how to handle your childâs tantrums or you fear you may discipline your child too harshly or harm your child (AAP)