Children, much like adults have mood swings, and while some kids may react mildly to a situation, there are others who tend to have a more extreme reaction when their demands aren’t being met. Kids can go from being uncooperative, disobeying authority, to showing anger and hostility. Your child may be the most adored toddler around but only you know how to deal with temper tantrums when he breaks into one.
While short bursts of anger and aggression are normal, regular temper tantrums may predict future antisocial behaviour. Ignoring your child’s temperament may diffuse the situation today, but will only create more issues as he grows up. It is an equally draining situation for the parent too.
More importantly, kids with temperament problems pose a threat to themselves and others. Which is why you need to know when a temper tantrum should be taken seriously.
When Is It A Temper Tantrum?
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There is a difference between short spurts of anger and a complete outburst. Typically, your child will throw a tantrum when they are tired, frustrated or during daily routines like bedtime, mealtime or when they’re getting dressed. On most occasions, it’s the routine that triggers the tantrum and they might easily calm down.
According to the US National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), tantrums most commonly occur between the ages of two and three but may occur as young as 12 months.
It is atypical for children over five years to have a repeated pattern of tantrums that last over 15 minutes.
However, it’s a red flag when your child bursts out without any reason. If the tantrums go on for long, exhausting your child, it is a cause of concern.
According to Ray Levy, PhD., a clinical psychologist in the US, children between the ages of one and four years tend to “lose it” when they haven’t developed good coping skills yet.
When Should You Be Concerned About Temper Tantrums?
Your child’s behaviour may be erratic when he’s having a temper tantrum and you need to watch out for these signs:
Children tend to be hostile towards their caregivers when having a temper tantrum. The hostility extends not just towards people, but household objects, toys, books and more.
You may also find the child throwing punches and kicks at the caregiver out of frustration. While a one-off incident can be ignored, it is deeply concerning if that’s how your child behaves during each of their tantrums.
2. Self harm
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This is a more serious issue and needs immediate attention as children may injure themselves gravely. During a temper tantrum, they could bite or scratch themselves.
Some children even bang their head against the wall or even hurt their foot by kicking things.
3. Frequent outbursts
If your child has over 15-20 outbursts every month, that’s a lot of time and energy spent comforting your child. This also means that you are spending a large part of your day addressing your child’s tantrums. This is a serious red flag.
4. Long outbursts
An outburst that lasts over 25-30 minutes at a stretch is hinting at other issues harming the wellbeing of your toddler. It would be advisable to pay a visit to a child psychologist.
5. Can’t calm down
Sometimes a temper tantrum can aggravate to the point where they can’t calm themselves down. This is a big issue in public spaces like a mall, grocery store or even a family gathering.
If the child can’t be distracted and needs to be removed from the environment, it’s something that needs attention at the earliest.
Why Do Temper Tantrums Happen?
A temper tantrum is usually a sign of underlying issues including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, learning disabilities, autism, or sensory processing issues.
Temper tantrums can also be caused by disruptive behaviour disorder.
This is further divided into two types of issues – Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder (CD). In such cases, children exhibit issues like fighting, cruelty, arguing and defiance of authority.
Children with ODD may show signs of being cruel, mean or spiteful to others. These children may also exhibit issues like anxiety and depression as they get older.
In the case of children with CD, their disruptive actions may include bullying, using weapons, destroying things, lying and stealing.
How Do You Deal With Temper Tantrums?
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There will be times when parents are triggered as well by their child’s temper tantrum, but remember to never take it personally.
If you anticipate a tantrum coming, be quick in distracting them or engaging your child in a different activity.
In case the tantrum is for a toy or food, it might be okay to give in to the demand on a few occasions, albeit within reason.
Sometimes, you may want the child to have that outburst and let that frustration out.
However, frequent episodes of temper tantrums may require the intervention of a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Early treatment will help your child deal with anger and frustration more constructively, which is extremely essential for their mental wellbeing when growing up.
As a parent too, you need the process of raising children to be less exhausting, and sometimes seeking professional help is the way to go.