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Alternative NamesActing-out behaviors
Definition Return to top
Temper tantrums are disruptive or undesirable behaviors or emotional outbursts displayed in response to unmet needs or desires. They may also refer to an inability to control emotions due to frustration or difficulty expressing a particular need or desire.
Information Return to top
Temper tantrums or "acting-out" behaviors are natural during early childhood development. Children have a normal and natural tendency to assert their independence as they learn they are separate beings from their parents.
This desire for control often shows up as saying "no" often and having tantrums, which are compounded by the fact that the child may not have the vocabulary to adequately express his or her feelings.
Temper tantrums are ultimately an attention-seeking behavior. One strategy to minimize the length and severity of the tantrum is to ignore the behavior. As long as the child is safe and not being destructive, walking away to another room in the house may shorten the episode because now the drama has no audience. Sometimes the child will follow and continue the tantrum. Do not talk or react until the behavior stops. Then, calmly discuss the issue and offer acceptable alternatives without giving in to their demand.
Tantrums generally begin around age 12-18 months, get worse between 2 and 3 years, then decrease rapidly until age 4, after which they should be seldom seen. Being tired, hungry, or sick can make tantrums worse or more frequent.
Make sure that your child eats and sleeps at his or her usual times. If your child no longer takes a nap, it is still important to have some quiet time. Lying down for 15-20 minutes or resting with you while you read stories together at regular times of the day can help prevent tantrums.
When your child has a temper tantrum, it is important that you remain calm. It helps to remember that tantrums are normal -- they are NOT your fault, you are NOT a bad parent, and your son or daughter is NOT a bad child. Shouting at or hitting your child will only make the situation worse. A quiet, peaceful response and atmosphere, without "giving in" or breaking the rule that you just set, will reduce stress and make both of you feel better.
Remember that children imitate behavior. You can also try gentle distraction to activities that they enjoy or try making a funny face. If you are not at home during a tantrum, try to carry your child to a quiet place like the car or a rest room, keeping him or her safe until the tantrum has ended.
Other methods to try to prevent tantrums include:
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you call your pediatrician if: