Temper tantrums are a frustrating, but typical, part of your child’s development. But tips, such as validating their feelings, can help you deal with your child’s behavior.

Not all expressions of anger in children are considered temper tantrums. Children often feel angry for legitimate reasons, and express that anger in different ways.

But when the outburst of emotion is disproportionate to the trigger then it’s considered to be a tantrum. In other words, the child will most likely become overly upset over something that wouldn’t typically justify their reaction.

Knowing how to identify such behaviors can help you deal with your child’s temper tantrums. It may also help them learn how to express their emotions in a healthy way.

Temper tantrums are brief but uncontrolled outbursts of intense anger or frustration that children often have. Children of any age (and even adults) can have tantrums, but they’re most common in toddlers between the ages of 1 and 4.

The most common behaviors seen during tantrums include:

  • crying
  • screaming
  • whining
  • breath-holding
  • going limp
  • throwing toys or other objects
  • pushing
  • biting
  • flailing
  • throwing themselves on the ground

On average, toddlers have around one tantrum per day, and they last for an average of 3 minutes. Most of the time, temper tantrums are nothing to worry about – even though they can feel exhausting for you as a parent.

The most important thing to know about temper tantrums is that they are a usual part of development. According to research, 91% of 30 to 36-month-olds have tantrums.

But it’s indicated that the percentage goes down to only 59% once children are 42 to 48 months old.

Some common signs of the start of a temper tantrum can include the following:

  • repeatedly saying “No” and becoming frustrated
  • crying
  • being hungry or tired
  • being upset about not immediately getting something they want
  • feeling overstimulated in a new environment, such as a loud or crowded room
  • feeling overwhelmed with choices
  • being bored or understimulated

But keep in mind that part of what makes a tantrum a tantrum is that they’re unplanned. Although you can try to pay attention to signs, tantrums may still come on seemingly out of nowhere.

There are so many specific situations that can lead toddlers to have a temper tantrum, and these situations are hard to predict. Any situation that leads your child to feel frustrated or upset can lead to a tantrum, and triggers will be different for every child.

Usually, tantrums are a way for children to express themselves when they feel overwhelmed with emotions like anger or frustration.

According to 2021 research, children ages 4 to 11 years old are typically still processing how to verbally specify and express how they feel.

In addition, toddlers are learning independence for the first time. They start to separate from their parents and want to test out their newfound independence. This is a typical part of healthy child development.

But this quest for independence often leads to power struggles and the child learning that they can’t yet do everything on their own.

Temper tantrums are also more likely to happen if your child has an unmet need; for example, if they’re tired, hungry, or in pain.

Some children continue to have temper tantrums past their toddler years, or have tantrums that last longer or are more intense than what’s considered “typical.”

Some reasons that children can continue having intense tantrums past the expected time include:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • autism
  • sensory processing disorder
  • learning disabilities
  • anxiety
  • depression

If you have a toddler, then you probably won’t prevent temper tantrums altogether – remember that they occur in a vast majority of children this age.

Tantrums aren’t necessarily a “problem” behavior, especially when they happen within the average confines of what a tantrum typically looks like.

But they can be exhausting for both parents and children. Here are some easy ways to avoid tantrums as much as possible.

Offer choices when you can

Try to offer simple and harmless choices to give your child a sense of independence. For example, you might let them choose between two jackets. You may also give them the choice between going to the park or the library after school.

Prioritize safety

Try not to get stuck in a power struggle with your toddler. We often feel tempted to say no to make sure the child knows who’s in charge. What matters most at this age is safety.

If your child wants something harmless, like playing with a toy while they eat, then consider letting them. Save your no’s for when it really matters.

It may be helpful to determine if what they’re doing, or not doing, matters to you. Consider assessing how important it is to avoid a power struggle.

Meet your child’s needs

Your child is more likely to have a temper tantrum when they’re tired, hungry, or not feeling well.

By making sure these needs are met for your child, you can lessen the chances of a tantrum. Stick to routines for meals, bedtimes, and naps. Try to avoid long outings that you know will tire your child out.

Keep off-limit things out of sight

It’s easier said than done, but as much as you can, keep things you don’t want your child to have out of their sight. If they see it, and you don’t allow them to have it, it could trigger a temper tantrum.

Helping your child cope

If your child is already in the middle of a temper tantrum, then it’s important to respond in a way that helps them feel emotionally safe but also understand that their behavior is not OK.

  • Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings: Remember that toddlers have temper tantrums because they’re overwhelmed with emotion. Try to help them put a name to their feelings. For example, you could say, “Are you angry that you didn’t get the toy you wanted?”
  • Stay calm: Try to resist the urge to shout at or spank your child. This will only make the tantrum worse. It may be helpful to remember that they’re still processing how to verbally express their emotions.
  • Try to find distractions: Tantrums can often be eased through a simple distracting activity to prevent or reduce tantrums. Distraction can be helpful to get children thinking about and doing something else they enjoy.
  • Do not give in to their demands: This will teach your child that they can use temper tantrums as a way to get what they want.
  • Don’t place blame: Temper tantrums are usual for toddlers. The cause of temper tantrums is nobody’s fault – not yours or your child’s. This may prevent you from blaming yourself or becoming angry with your child.
  • Withhold attention: Consider withholding attention to the tantrum unless their behavior is hurting themselves or others. Keep in mind that certain behaviors should not be ignored, like kicking or hitting you or others.
  • Consider time-outs: Remove your child from the situation if they don’t calm down. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that time-outs be limited to one minute for every year of the child’s age.
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Generally, temper tantrums are a normal part of toddler development and nothing to worry about.

Try to crave out time to take care of yourself as your child moves through this phase. Temper tantrums are some of the toughest parts of parenting, and it’s OK to feel frustrated by them. If you’re in need of support, you’re not alone.

Consider applying for evidence-based parenting programs, such as The Incredible Years, to help with problem behaviors. Tools like the parenting pyramid can be helpful as you learn how to manage tantrums and other overall behaviors in your children.

But consider talking with your pediatrician about your child’s temper tantrums if:

  • tantrums don’t start getting better by age 4
  • they hurt themselves during tantrums, such as holding their breath until they faint
  • you feel the tantrums are affecting your relationship with your child or your mental health

There’s not a one-size-fits-all method to manage tantrums, so consider choosing a method that best fits you and your child. Seeking to understand why your child is having a tantrum may help you determine the best course of action.