Print this page | E-mail this page

Temper Tantrums

What are Temper Tantrums?

Temper tantrums are sometimes referred to as “screaming fits" or “falling out." Tantrums are a normal part of childhood and common between 1 and 3 years of age. Children have tantrums because:

  • They feel a loss of control.
  • They are testing the limits.
  • They are seeking attention.
  • They do not feel safe.
  • They are having a hard time adjusting to a new situation.
  • Something has been taken from them.
  • They do not know the words to explain how they feel or what they want and this upsets them.
  • They are tired, hungry, or overwhelmed.

Children will play and act normally between tantrums. Temper tantrums happen less often as children learn coping skills and how to express themselves with words.

Is there anything good about temper tantrums?

Temper tantrums are a normal part of growing up. They are one way your young child can communicate that he is frustrated or feels out of control. They provide a young child the opportunity to “blow off some steam” and release the stress of sensory overload.

What can parents do to help a child who has temper tantrums?

  • Provide consistency and predictability, such as sticking to routines for meals and sleep times.
  • Help your child figure out what he can do. For example, “We cannot go outside right now, but you can play with this toy.”
  • Have reasonable expectations for your child’s behavior. Do not expect your child to be perfect. Learn about child development so you know what to expect at different ages and stages.
  • Prepare your child for changes or events by talking about them before they happen. This may help him feel more in control of the situation.
  • Noticing what happened just before the tantrum may help you understand what triggers your child’s tantrums and help prevent the same situation in the future.
  • Set consistent limits for your child and focus on what they can do as often as possible.

What can parents do when their child has a temper tantrum?

  • Stay calm.
  • Do not reinforce the behavior by giving the child lots of attention for it, either negative or positive.
  • Do not give in to the demand that started the tantrum.
  • It is all right to intervene to make sure your child is safe or to help the child calm down by taking deep breaths.
  • Change the environment to help the child who is feeling overwhelmed. For example, speak calmly and quietly, turn down the TV or music, dim bright lights.
  • Teach your child words to use so he can ask for what he wants and express his emotions. Praise your child when he is able to use those words.
  • Do not hit, spank or bite your child!
  • Do not bribe your child to stop the tantrum. Bribing a child teaches him that he gets rewards for tantrums.
  • Remove potentially dangerous objects.
  • Do not take it personally, your child is just trying to figure out how the world works and needs your guidance.

Should I talk to my child’s doctor about his temper tantrums?

You should talk to your child's doctor if:

  • You have questions about the severity, length or frequency of your child’s tantrums.
  • Your child has a lot of trouble talking and cannot let you know what he needs.
  • Temper tantrums continue or get worse after 3-4 years of age.
  • Your child has signs of illness along with temper tantrums.
  • Your child harms himself or others during tantrums.
  • You are concerned that you or another caregiver might harm your child when he is having a tantrum.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 11/2011