Medical Author: John Mersch, MD, FAAP
What are temper tantrums?
Temper tantrums are emotional and physical "meltdowns" common among children in the 2- to 4-year-old age range. The toddler may demonstrate a number of characteristic behaviors, including screaming, kicking, lying on the floor, and occasionally holding his breath (rarely to the point of passing out). As a child matures, these manifestations of emotional, developmental, and physical immaturity gradually extinguish themselves. Studies indicate that 23%-85% of children between 2 and 4 years of age will commonly have temper tantrums.
What causes temper tantrum in toddlers?
A toddler's view of the world is egocentric; "I want what I want, when I want it!" This narcissistic view of their world is coupled with an incomplete and unbalanced development of expressive language skills when compared with their more complete receptive language skills. The receptive language of a 2-year-old child is numbered in the thousands, while the expressive skill generally is 150-200 words. Perhaps more frustrating for the toddler is the receptive ability to understand complex sentence structure while only able to express his thoughts in two- to three-word phrases.
The toddler world is full of exploration and discovery. Commonly, young children learn by observation and attempting the same or similar task. This (from a parental perspective) is fine when it comes to desired behaviors (such as toilet training). However, playing with the TV remote control is not part of these desired behaviors, unless you are a toddler and don't discriminate with regard to goals. When a parent's desire for safety and limiting chaos clashes with their young child's fierce struggle for autonomy and limited language capabilities, the temper tantrum is almost inevitable.
How should parents handle temper tantrums in toddlers?
Over the years, parents and psychologists have developed a series of suggestions to help deal with temper tantrums. These include