Diseases & Conditions
Temper tantrums are common in childhood. They usually appear toward the end of the first year, are most common between the ages of 2 and 4, and are typically infrequent after age 5. If tantrums are frequent after age 5, they may persist throughout childhood.
Causes include frustration, tiredness, or hunger. Children may also have temper tantrums to seek attention or to manipulate parents to obtain something, or to avoid doing something. Parents often place the blame on themselves (because of imagined poor parenting) when the real cause is often a combination of the child's personality, immediate circumstances, and developmentally normal behavior. An underlying psychologic, medical, or social problem may rarely be the cause and is more likely if a tantrum lasts for more than 15 minutes or if tantrums occur multiple times each day.
A child who is having a temper tantrum may shout, scream, cry, thrash about, roll on the floor, stamp with his feet, and throw things. Some of the behavior may be rage like and potentially harmful; he may become red in the face and hit or kick.
To stop a tantrum, parents should first ask the child simply and firmly to do so. If that fails and if the behavior is sufficiently disruptive, the child may have to be removed physically from the situation. At this point, a time-out procedure can be very effective. A time-out procedure is a discipline technique used by parents to interrupt the child's disruptive behavior. A time-out is most effective in children 2 and older. After repeatedly misbehaving, the child is calmly sent or taken to a chair for a set period—1 minute for each year of age, up to a maximum of 5 minutes. If the child gets up early or does not quiet down within the set period, the timer is reset.
Last full review/revision February 2003
Source: The Merck Manual Home Edition