Tantrum Red Flags

Anyone who has had a child, or been around one, has probably seen the dreaded temper tantrum.

Most kids will argue, be uncooperative, and disobey authority now and then. But when that anger and hostility happen often -- leading to other problems with friends, at school, or at home -- there may be cause for concern.

While parents and caregivers can ignore tantrums in toddlers and preschoolers, it's harder to shrug them off later in life. Aggressive older children can pose a danger to both others and themselves.

What's 'Normal'?

A “typical” tantrum can happen when a young child is tired or frustrated, or during daily routines like bedtime, mealtime, or getting dressed.

What's not typical is when the outburst comes out of nowhere, or is so intense that the child becomes exhausted. When it becomes regular, that should be a red flag.

Some of the things that can be cause for concern are:

Hostility toward people, objects, or both. It's possible for a child to want to hit or kick a caregiver out of frustration once in a while. But when it happens in more than half of the child's tantrums, there could be a problem.

Your child tries to injure himself. He might try to do something like:

  • Bite himself
  • Scratch himself
  • Bang his head against the wall
  • Try to hurt his foot by kicking something

Your child can't calm himself down. In other words, you have to remove him from the environment or promise him something after nearly every tantrum to defuse it.

Numerous tantrums. At home, that means 10-20 outbursts per month. If it happens five times a day on more than one day, that's cause for concern, too.

Very long outbursts. If the tantrums usually last more than 25 minutes, that could signal an underlying issue.

 

Why Does This Happen?

A child might lash out regularly because of:

Something called disruptive behavior disorder could also be the cause. This is more than a tantrum. It can include a pattern of actions that interferes with daily life. It can include:

  • Fighting
  • Cruelty
  • Arguing
  • Defiance of authority

Continued

Two of the most common disruptive behavior disorders are oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder (CD).

Children with ODD may show signs of being spiteful, mean, or cruel to others.

They're hostile a lot and spend a lot of time arguing or defying authority. They may be more likely to have anxiety or depression as they get older.

Children with CD may grow up to have problems in daily life with friends or at home. Their ongoing disruptive or violent actions may include bullying, using weapons, destroying property, stealing, and lying.

If you're concerned about your child's behavior, talk with your pediatrician. She may refer you to a psychiatrist or a psychologist, if needed. Early treatment can help and can focus on goals like teaching your child to deal with anger and frustration in ways that are more appropriate.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on August 18, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “Disruptive Behavior Disorders.”

Northwestern University: “When to Worry About Kids' Temper Tantrums.”

Child Mind Institute: “Angry Kids: Dealing With Explosive Behavior.”

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology: “Understanding Violent Behavior in Children and Adolescents.”

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