A temper tantrum is a
sudden, unplanned display of anger or other emotions. It is not just an act to get attention.
During a temper tantrum, children often cry, yell, and swing their arms and
legs. Temper tantrums usually last 30 seconds to 2 minutes and are most intense
at the start.
Sometimes temper tantrums last longer and are more
severe. The child may hit, bite, and pinch. These violent tantrums, in which
children harm themselves or others, may be a sign of a more serious
Temper tantrums are most common in children ages 1 to 4
years. But anyone can have a tantrum—even an adult.
Is it normal for children to have temper tantrums?
Temper tantrums are common. Most children ages 1 to 4 have temper
tantrums. Some children have tantrums every day.1
Why do children have temper tantrums?
is a normal response when something blocks a young child from gaining
independence or learning a skill. The child may not yet have the skills to
express anger and frustration in other ways. For example, a temper tantrum may
happen when a child becomes frustrated while trying to button a shirt or is
told it's time for bed when he or she wants to stay up.
children are more likely to have temper tantrums than other children. Things
that might make a tantrum more likely are:
How tired a child is.
The child's level of stress.
Whether the child has
other physical, mental, or emotional problems.
Parents' behavior also matters. A child may be more likely
to have temper tantrums if parents react too strongly to poor behavior or give
in to the child's demands.
How can you deal with temper tantrums?
the tantrums and helping a young child learn how to deal with anger and
frustration are often good ways to deal with tantrums. Pay attention to what
starts the tantrums. Knowing what triggers the tantrums can help you act before
your child's emotions get past the point where he or she can control
You may want to use time-outs if your child age 2 or older has a lot of tantrums. A time-out takes the child out of the
situation and gives him or her time to calm down. It also teaches the child
that having a temper tantrum is not acceptable behavior. Time-out works best
for children who understand why it is being used.
Do children grow out of having temper tantrums?
Most children will grow out of having temper tantrums. With time, most children
learn healthy ways to handle the strong emotions that can lead to temper
Children who still have tantrums after the age of 4 may
need help learning to deal with their emotions. If tantrums continue or start during the
school years, they may be a sign of other issues, such as learning problems or
trouble getting along with other children.
Should you see your child's doctor about temper tantrums?
Talk with a doctor if:
You have concerns about your child's temper
Your child is older than 4 and still has temper tantrums
Your child's temper tantrums turn into violent behavior that
harms your child, other people, or objects.
You have problems
handling your child's behavior, especially if you think that you might hurt
temper tantrums last 30 seconds to 2 minutes and are
most intense during the first 30 seconds. During a tantrum, a child may:
Cry, scream, or shout.
back or tense the body.
Flail the arms.
Temper tantrums are most likely to occur when a child is
afraid, overtired, or uncomfortable.
Breath-holding spells may sometimes occur with
Difficult behavior that frequently lasts longer than 15
minutes, occurs more than 3 times a day, or is more aggressive may mean
that a child has a medical, emotional, or social problem that needs attention.
These are not considered typical temper tantrums. Difficult behaviors may
Kicking, hitting, biting, scratching, hair-pulling, or pinching other people.
Throwing or breaking
Head-banging or inflicting self-injury.
Exams and Tests
Talk to your doctor if you are
concerned about your child's
temper tantrums or other difficult behavior. A doctor
can assess your child's behavior based on:
physical exam and
medical history. Your child's doctor will examine your
child and ask questions to help find out whether temper tantrums are part of
normal growth and developmental patterns or if it's possible that other
behavioral or medical causes are responsible.
To eliminate other behavioral or emotional problems as the
cause, the doctor may also ask you to complete a behavior assessment
questionnaire. Sometimes the child's care provider or school teacher is asked
to complete a similar form. Preteens and teens may be asked to complete a
questionnaire about their perception of their own behaviors. The doctor can use
the completed questionnaires to determine whether the child needs professional
help and whether you need help dealing with the child's behavior.
If a doctor suspects that your child's temper tantrums are a sign of
another disorder, he or she may order tests to check for other illnesses or
conditions, such as
seizures, learning problems, or
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
Most children learn other ways to
deal with their anger and other strong emotions as they grow older and do not
need medical treatment for
temper tantrums. Ignoring the tantrum behavior and
helping a young child learn how to handle his or her feelings is most often all
that is needed.
Parenting workshops can be helpful for parents of
a child who has temper tantrums. These types of programs often help parents
become familiar with growth and developmental stages and provide strategies on
how to handle difficult behavior.
Medical treatment for temper
tantrums may be recommended for children who:
Have long-lasting and frequent temper
Regularly have temper tantrums after 4 years of
Hurt themselves or become violent.
Talk with a doctor if:
You have concerns about your child's temper
Your child's temper tantrums frequently last longer than
15 minutes or occur more than 3 times a day.
Your child's behavior
does not improve after 4 years of age.
Your child hurts himself or
herself, other people, or objects during a temper tantrum.
You want help with learning to cope with your
feelings during your child's temper tantrums.
Expect your 1- or 2-year-old to have
temper tantrums. In this age group tantrums are a
normal part of learning independence and mastery. If your young child has
temper tantrums, try the following:
Ignore the behavior. Sometimes ignoring
the tantrum works best, especially since tantrums usually last less than 2
minutes and attempts to stop a tantrum usually make it worse. When you stop
responding to your child's temper tantrums, the behavior may get worse for a
few days before it stops. Ignoring some temper tantrums (such as when a child
has one because he or she does not want to go to bed, or is kicking, biting,
and pinching) may not be possible.
Praise your child for calming down. After
a tantrum, comfort your child without giving in to his or her demands. Tell your
child that he or she was out of control and needed time to calm down. Never
make fun of or punish a child who has had a temper tantrum. Don't use words
like "bad girl" or "bad boy" to describe your child during a temper
Acknowledge the feeling. After your child is calm,
acknowledge his or her feelings of frustration and anger. You might say, "I
know that you were frustrated because you could not tie your
Teach other ways to handle anger and frustration. Teaching
a child different ways to deal with negative emotions may reduce the number of
temper tantrums a child has or prevent temper tantrums from getting worse.
Offer simple suggestions to help a child learn self-control. For example,
encourage your child to use words to express feelings or establish a safe,
comfortable place in the home where your child can go to calm down. Look for times that your child acts in a positive way, and thank your child for his or her actions.
Encourage taking a break from a frustrating
activity or redirect the child to a task he or she has already
Be a good role model. Children often learn by watching
their parents. Set a good example by handling your own frustration
During a tantrum, you can help your child by:
Staying where the
child can see you, especially if the child is very young.
the child to his or her room until he or she is calm, if the child is old
enough to understand why this is being done.
dangerous furniture or objects within the child's reach. If there are too many
objects that could hurt the child, you may need to move the child to a safe
place. Sometimes you may need to physically hold a younger child to prevent
Being firm and consistent about what you expect. Do not
give in to the child's demands.
Not trying to reason with the child
during the tantrum. Talk calmly to the child if this works for him or her. But
don't lecture, threaten, or argue with the child.
Do not be alarmed if the child
holds his or her breath. Children often hold their
breath during a temper tantrum. They will breathe again automatically, even if
they pass out. For more information, see the topic
Distract your child from his or her
frustration or take your child away from a situation that is likely to trigger
a tantrum. For example, if your child doesn't like to go to bed, about 20
minutes before bedtime talk about a fun activity that is going to occur the
next day. Reduce the need to say "no" to your child by childproofing your home.
Fewer rules need to be enforced if unsafe or breakable items are kept out of a
child's reach or sight.
Reduce how often temper tantrums occur
by giving your child simple choices and by listening to your child's concerns.
It also can help to provide a regular and predictable schedule for your child.
This is especially true during times that you expect your child may be more
prone to temper tantrums, such as when starting a new child care routine.
Establish regular times to eat and sleep to help your child to be in a good
state of mind.
In general, parents who know what to expect from their
child at different ages are better able to help their child grow and develop in
a healthy way. Talk with your doctor about how to help your child gain a sense
of independence, boost his or her self-confidence, and handle frustration and
If your child harms himself or herself or others during
temper tantrums, talk with your doctor about ways to stop these behaviors. Your
doctor may suggest that your child be evaluated for a behavior problem.
If your child
continues to have temper tantrums, you may want to use
time-outs. Time-out works best for children who
understand why it is being used. A time-out removes the child from the situation, allows him or
her time to calm down, and teaches the child that having a temper tantrum is
not acceptable behavior.
If you need to use time-out, it will be
important for you to also take time to be with your child (time-in). Time-in may
help reduce your child's frustration and lead to fewer temper tantrums. Time-in
is making frequent, brief contact with your child when he or she is
behaving as expected. For example, you can pat your child on the head while he
or she is playing quietly. This physical touch shows the child that you approve
of his or her behavior. Or you can make a comment such as, "I like it when you
sit quietly and look at your books when I am on the phone."
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Stein MT (2011). Difficult behavior. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph’s Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 335–338. New York: McGraw-Hill.
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