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Temper Tantrums - Topic Overview

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 problem.

Temper tantrums are most common in children ages 1 to 4 years. But anyone can have a tantrum—even an adult.

Temper tantrums are common. Most children ages 1 to 4 have temper tantrums. Some children have tantrums every day.1

A tantrum 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.

Some 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 age.
  • 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.

Ignoring 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 them.

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.

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 tantrums.

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.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 20, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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