Are My Son’s Tantrums Normal?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From the U.S.: Sometimes my son mid-tantrum will transform into a very scary calm obsequious mode. Should he be looked at? Usually my son will throw tantrums that we feel are normal for a 5 year old. But once in a while, I think when he feels especially kind of desperate usually after having escalated with one of us he will transform mid tantrum from screaming/angry etc to suddenly a very small voiced, obsequious sort of manner and say things like ‘i love u’ etc. The result is that it totally scares my wife and me as it is so sudden and bizarre. I remember the first time as it literally made the hair on my neck stand up. We are worried that there is some kind of mental issue going on.

He first started doing this maybe 1 or 2 years ago. I would consider him to be pretty normal otherwise. He is probably more sensitive, timid, and introspective than average but I wouldn’t say enough to cause any concern. He plays fine with others and seems very happy most of the time.

My question is whether this behaviour is a sign for anything and whether we should perhaps seek professional help?

Thank you.

A: You say that this behavior occurs after he has escalated. One possible explanation is that he scares himself. A sensitive, introspective kid might worry that he has gone too far. He loves you and doesn’t want to lose his connection with you.

Try this: The next time it happens, offer a hug or bring him onto your lap. Reassure him that you love him, too. Tell him that you think his tantrums get pretty scary for you both. Ask him what you can maybe do so he doesn’t get so very angry and upset. Perhaps the two of you can find a way to interrupt the tantrum before it scares both of you. Make sure you have this conversation as calmly and matter-of-factly as you can. This isn’t intended to be a way to scold him. It’s a way for the two of you to put your heads together to solve a problem. Then try out whatever you came up with.

You may have to have this conversation a few times. Sometimes people agree to try something that simply doesn’t work. The task then is to again reassure and go back to the “drawing board.” Calmly say, “Well, I guess that didn’t work. What should we do now?”

Your son is lucky to have concerned and involved parents. Instead of escalating in response to his out of control behavior, you are looking for answers. Hang in there. A little boy who has so many positive attributes can actively help solve the problem if given love and the chance.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Aug 2014

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2014). Are My Son’s Tantrums Normal?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/08/21/are-my-sons-tantrums-normal/