Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are a normal part of a child's development. Young children don’t have the same control over their emotions as older children and adults. When faced with frustrations or limits, your child may whine, cry, scream, kick, and hit. Depending on the child’s personality, tantrums can occur often or rarely.

Temper tantrums generally start around age 1 and start to decrease by age 5. Tantrums occur most often between 2 and 4 years old. At these ages, children can't easily ask for what they want with words. Tantrums become less frequent as children learn to express themselves better. A tantrum may be the way that your child gets more attention. It could also be the result of being hungry, tired, uncomfortable, or frustrated.

Home care

Try these tips to prevent tantrums:

  • Give your child lots of attention when they're behaving in ways that you like. Sometimes children throw tantrums just because they're not getting enough attention.

  • Childproof your house so that forbidden items are out of reach and out of sight.

  • Don't ask your child yes or no questions unless it's OK for him or her to answer no. For example, don’t ask, “Do you want to take a bath?” Simply say, “It's time for your bath.” Or offer an option like, “Do you want to take your bath before or after reading this book?”

  • Try to distract your child with a new activity or object when you want your child to stop what he or she is doing. Say, “Hey, come look at this cat in the yard,” when you see your child starting to get frustrated or damage objects.

  • Try not to let your child get overly tired or hungry.

  • Ignore attention-grabbing tantrums, such as slamming doors and whining, if the tantrum is not too disruptive and your child is safe.

When a tantrum occurs:

  • Keep your cool. Don’t get angry yourself. Don’t hit or yell at your child during or after the tantrum. Set a good example of how to behave when frustrated.

  • Make efforts to calm your child. If the tantrum is a result of your telling your child no, the best thing you can do is stop giving your child attention. Pretend to ignore their behavior, but keep an eye on them to ensure safety.

  • Stay firm. It's very important not to let your child’s reaction change your mind about a limit that you have set. Rewarding your child when they have a temper tantrum teaches that throwing a tantrum gets what the child wants.

  • Safety first. If your child is too disruptive, threatening to harm others or damage things, you may need to take them to a quiet safe place. Or you may need to physically hold your child to prevent harm.

If your child continues to lose control, or if you are having a hard time coping with your child's outbursts, talk with your healthcare provider. Your provider can evaluate the situation further and advise additional support.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Talk with your healthcare provider if your child is school-aged and is experiencing any of these:

  • Has tantrums several times per day

  • Has problems in school

  • Shows signs of restlessness, defiance, short attention span, or low self-esteem

  • Hurts themself or others

  • Has other behavioral issues

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur during a tantrum:

  • Your child stops breathing

  • Your child changes color

  • Your child becomes limp during a tantrum

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