Published: Sept. 30, 2010
Updated: Sept. 30, 2010
By Kate Griesmann
If your toddler has ever switched from a good-natured tyke to a screaming banshee in a matter of minutes, rest assured that you are not alone.
Though temper tantrums can be frustrating, confusing, and embarrassing, they are also a normal part of childhood development.
Julia L. Wacker, MSW, MSPH, a resident educator with Duke Children’s Primary Care, explains that -- though exasperating -- tantrums provide opportunities for children who are seeking independence to learn valuable coping skills.
Between the ages of one and two, children develop autonomy and a desire to do things on their own. In toddlers this independence is matched with a need for parental support and security -- a combination that can lead to trying times.
“Toddlers want to do it on their own, but they can’t really, and they are frustrated by that,” Wacker says.
On top of that, humans have more physical energy at age three than at any other time in their life. In times of frustration, that energy releases itself in a fit of screaming, crying, and flailing.
Wacker suggests looking carefully at your child’s tantrums to identify patterns. Learn what causes your child’s tantrums and work to prevent them before they happen. If tantrums are more common in the morning or bedtime, for example, setting up routines may alleviate some fit-causing triggers.
Children, like adults, have different sensitivities. Loud noises and crowds may upset some children, but not others. Knowing what situations to avoid can help prevent difficult behavior.
Tantrums also tend to be more common in children whose language skills aren’t developed enough for them to express themselves well. Help your child find ways to let you know what they need.
When tantrums do occur, Wacker offers these tips for managing them and moving on:
Children thrive on attention, even when it’s part of a negative situation. “If they are in a tantrum, you definitely don’t want to engage with an argument,” cautions Wacker. Instead, she recommends using attention throughout the day to highlight good behavior, rather than reinforce bad behavior.
Above all, keep in mind that tantrums are bound to happen as toddlers figure out their sense of independence and place in their environment. Most children grow out of this stage within a couple of years. However, Wacker cautions, tantrums in children over the age of six are a sign of learned behavior and may be worth discussing with your pediatrician.