Home > Health Library > Temper Tantrums
If you have a young child, you probably know what temper tantrums are. Experts define them as sudden, unplanned displays of anger or other emotions. During a tantrum, children often whine, cry, or scream. They may also swing their arms and
legs wildly or hold their breath.
Anyone can have temper tantrums. But they are most common in children ages 1 to 4
Dealing with tantrums may be unpleasant or embarrassing. But remember, tantrums are most intense
at the start, and they usually last only 2 minutes or less. And most children stop having tantrums by age 4 or 5, when they learn healthy ways to handle strong emotions.
is a normal response when something blocks a young child from gaining
independence or learning a skill. The child may not yet have the skills to
express strong emotions in other ways. For example, a temper tantrum may
happen when a child gets frustrated because he can't button a shirt. Or a child may get upset when she is
told it's time for bed but she wants to stay up.
Children are more likely to have tantrums when they are afraid, overtired, or uncomfortable.
As a parent, your behavior matters too. Your child is more likely
to have temper tantrums if you react too strongly to poor behavior or give
in to the child's demands.
If you sense that a tantrum is coming, you may be able to stop it.
After a tantrum starts, ignoring it may work best. Try the following:
After a tantrum is over:
If your child has a lot of tantrums, time-out may be an option. Time-out works best
for children who can understand why it is being used. This is usually around age 2 or 3 years.
For a time-out, you send or put your child someplace safe, such as a chair in a hallway, for a few minutes. This gives the child time to calm down. It also teaches the child
that having a temper tantrum is not acceptable behavior.
You may be able to prevent some temper tantrums or at least reduce
how often they happen.
Children who still have tantrums after the age of 4 may
need help learning to deal with their emotions. Tantrums that continue or start during the
school years may be a sign of learning problems or other issues that the child may need help with.
Some children have temper tantrums that last longer and are more
severe than normal. They may destroy things or hurt themselves or other people. This violent behavior may be a sign of a more serious
Talk with a doctor if:
It may be helpful to keep a record of your child's behavior for a few days before your doctor visit. This will help the doctor assess your child's behavior and decide if testing is needed.
Learning about temper tantrums:
Living with temper tantrums:
Other Works Consulted
Albrecht SJ, et al. (2003). Common behavioral dilemmas
of the school-aged child. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 50: 841–857.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Behavior. In SP Shelov, RE Hannemann, eds., Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 4th ed., chap. 18, pp. 565–586. New York: Bantam.
Goldson E, Reynolds A (2011). Child development and behavior. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed., pp. 64–103 New York: McGraw-Hill.
Stein MT (2011). Difficult behavior. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph’s Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 335–338. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Walter HJ, DeMaso DR (2011). Disruptive behavior disorders. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 96–100. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Current as of:
April 22, 2014
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics & Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
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