Merck Manual

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Quick Facts

Temper Tantrums


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Oct 2020| Content last modified Oct 2020
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What is a temper tantrum?

All children get angry from time to time. A temper tantrum is an extreme, angry outburst. They usually happen in children 1 to 4 years old.

  • Children may scream, cry, roll on the floor, throw things, or stomp their feet

  • Some hold their breath and turn red

  • Most temper tantrums happen when a child is frustrated

  • Some children have temper tantrums to get attention, get something from you, or avoid doing something

  • Tantrums are more likely when children are hungry or tired

  • Usually temper tantrums last less than 15 minutes

  • Use time-out or distract your child with another activity to stop temper tantrums

How can I help my child during a temper tantrum?

A temper tantrum eventually stops, but you can get very frustrated until it does. You usually can't reason with a child during a tantrum. And scolding them doesn't make it stop. Help your child calm down by doing the following:

  • First, try to calm yourself

  • Try to distract your child, but don't give them the thing they're trying to get

  • If distraction doesn't work, move the child to a different room or space

  • At home, a time-out chair may be a good location

  • Have your child sit in the time-out chair, 1 minute for each year of your child's age (for example, 1 minute for 1-year-old, 5 minutes for 5-year-old)

  • Don’t talk or look at your child while in time-out

  • After time is up, remind your child why the time-out was needed

  • Start your child in a new activity and go out of your way to praise any good behavior

Don't give in to what your child wants while having a tantrum. Giving in only teaches your child that tantrums work.

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