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Acting out is defined as the release of out-of-control aggressive or sexual impulses in order to gain relief from tension or anxiety. Such impulses often result in antisocial or delinquent behaviors. The term is also sometimes used in regard to a psychotherapeutic release of repressed feelings, as occurs in psychodrama.
The earliest acting out behaviors are often referred to as temper tantrums. These behaviors are usually first observed in infants between the ages of 12 and 18 months of age. At that point, temper tantrums can be considered a normal part of growth and development. These early tantrums are simply an infant's attempt to communicate feelings of dissatisfaction or extreme disappointment. Observed behaviors in infants trying to express their anger or frustration usually include patently angry-sounding crying, kicking hands and feet, and possibly even trying to strike out. For toddlers, such violent outbursts of temper often include hitting, kicking, and biting others; and possibly self-injurious behaviors such as head-banging. The child's reaction to the supposed cause of the tantrum is often markedly disproportionate to the precipitating incident. An example would be the child who is told that he or she cannot have a lollipop and then proceeds to violently attack the mother, hitting and kicking her, while screaming as loudly as possible.
Acting out conduct can include any highly emotional, disruptive, and unacceptable outburst that appears to be the child's reaction to unmet needs or wishes. A primary reason for such emotional lack of control in a child, especially above the age of three or four, is having not learned how to cope with their own frustration. Such temper tantrums usually peak between the ages of two and three. Because under normal circumstances the child has learned the necessary lessons in how to deal with disappointment by the time he or she has reached the age of four, there is then a noticeable decrease in this sort of acting out behavior.
Author Info: Joan Schonbeck R.N., Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health, 2006This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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