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Temper tantrums are emotional outbursts of anger and frustration.
Tantrums typically begin around age 12 to 18 months and reach their peak during the “terrible twos.” This is the period in child development when children start to gain a sense of self and assert their independence from their parents. It’s also a time when children can’t yet speak well enough to make their needs known. This combination is a “perfect storm” for tantrums. Fatigue, hunger, and illness can make tantrums worse or more frequent. In most cases, tantrums begin to wane over time and usually disappear by age 4.
When your child is throwing a tantrum, you may be tempted to think it’s your fault. It isn’t. Tantrums are a normal part of childhood development, and they don’t occur because you’ve been a bad parent or because you’ve done something wrong.
Your child may display one or more of the following behaviors during a tantrum:
The following strategies may help you manage your child’s temper tantrums.
It’s important to remain composed. If possible, don’t let your child’s tantrum interrupt what you’re doing, and don’t react with threats or anger. This lets your child know that tantrums are not an effective means of getting your attention or getting what they want. Wait for a quiet time after the tantrum has subsided to discuss your child’s behavior.
If possible, pretend that nothing’s happening. If your child is in a safe place and you’re finding it difficult to ignore them, leave the room.
However, certain behaviors should not be ignored, such as kicking or hitting others, throwing objects that could cause damage or injury, or screaming for extended periods of time. In these situations, remove your child from the environment, along with any objects that could be dangerous. Verbally reinforce that such behaviors are unacceptable.
If you’re home and your child won’t calm down, try a time out. Take them to another room and remove anything that might distract them. If you’re out in public, ignore the tantrum unless your child is in danger of hurting themselves or someone else. In that case, the best response is to stop what you’re doing, take your child, and leave.
Sometimes, it works to offer your child another activity or object, such as a book or toy, or to make a silly face.
Letting your child know that you understand their emotions can sometimes help them calm down, especially if they’re looking for attention.
Show approval when your child behaves well. This will reinforce good behavior.
Tantrums are a normal part of growing up and they will most likely go away with time. However, if your child’s temper tantrums get worse or you feel that you’re unable to manage them, you may want to talk to your doctor.
You should consult your child’s pediatrician if:
The following strategies may help prevent tantrums:
Over time, you will learn which strategies work best with your child.
Written by: Maureen Donohue
Medically reviewed on: Mar 08, 2016: Karen Richardson Gill, MD
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