Temper Tantrums

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Temper Tantrums Prevention

Positive Parenting of Toddlers 2-3 Years of Age

Because of your child's growing desire to assert her independence, this stage is often called the "terrible twos." However, this can be an exciting time for you and your toddler. He will experience huge intellectual, social, and emotional changes that will help him to explore his new world, and make sense of it.

Quick GuideParenting: Learn to Be a Better Parent

Parenting: Learn to Be a Better Parent

Temper tantrums facts

  • Temper tantrums are a common behavior in children 2 to 4 years of age. While exasperating to parents, they reflect the toddler's normal desire for independence coupled with the neurological immaturity (such as expressive language skills) found in this age range.
  • Parents can effectively manage temper tantrums by remaining calm and objective and not rewarding the child's behavior. Walking away from the child during the temper tantrum teaches the child that their approach is unsuccessful. Timeout is also an effective tool parents can successfully utilize.
  • Strategies exist to help prevent temper tantrums. Realistic behavioral expectations, letting the child make some choices in day-to-day activities, and searching out and rewarding good behavior choices are all effective techniques.
  • Extremely frequent and excessively long-lasting (greater than five minutes) tantrums involving violence (especially directed at younger siblings or other children) or parental sense of "loss of control" warrant an appointment with the child's pediatrician.

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. The toddler has many skills and little judgement. Young children learn by observation and repetitive trials. When a parent's desire for safety and limiting chaos clashes with the young child's fierce struggle for autonomy and the child's limited language capabilities, the temper tantrum is almost inevitable.

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