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Temper Tantrums

By

Stephen Brian Sulkes

, MD, Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Last full review/revision Aug 2021| Content last modified Aug 2021
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A temper tantrum is a violent emotional outburst, usually in response to frustration.

Temper tantrums usually appear toward the end of the first year, are most common at age 2 (terrible twos) to 4, and are infrequent after age 5. If tantrums are frequent after age 5, they may persist throughout childhood.

Causes of temper tantrums include frustration, tiredness, and hunger. Children also may have temper tantrums to seek attention, obtain something, or avoid doing something. Parents often blame themselves (because of imagined poor parenting) when the actual cause is often a combination of the child’s personality, immediate circumstances, and developmentally normal behavior. An underlying mental, physical, or social problem rarely may be the cause but is likely only if tantrums last > 15 minutes or occur multiple times each day.

Temper tantrums may involve

  • Shouting

  • Screaming

  • Crying

  • Thrashing about

  • Rolling on the floor

  • Stomping

  • Throwing things

The child may become red in the face and hit or kick. Some children may voluntarily hold their breath for a few seconds and then resume normal breathing (unlike breath-holding spells Breath-Holding Spells A breath-holding spell is an episode in which the child stops breathing involuntarily and loses consciousness for a short period immediately after a frightening or emotionally upsetting event... read more , which also can follow crying bouts caused by frustration).

Although providing a safe setting for children to compose themselves (eg, a time-out Time-Out Technique Many behaviors exhibited by children or adolescents concern parents or other adults. Behaviors or behavioral patterns become clinically significant if they are frequent or persistent and maladaptive... read more ) is often effective, many children have difficulty stopping tantrums on their own. In most cases, addressing the source of the tantrum only prolongs it. It is therefore preferable to redirect the child by providing an alternative activity on which to focus. The child may benefit from being removed physically from the situation.

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