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Temper Tantrums: Comprehensive Summary, Prevention & Intervention

Temper Tantrums: Comprehensive Summary, Prevention and Intervention 

There are 9 different types of temperaments in kids:
  1. Distractible temperament predisposes the youngster to pay more attention to his or her surroundings than to the caregiver.
  2. High intensity level temperament moves the youngster to yell, scream, or hit hard when feeling threatened.
  3. Hyperactive temperament predisposes the youngster to respond with fine- or gross-motor activity.
  4. Initial withdrawal temperament is found when kids get clingy, shy, and unresponsive in new situations and around unfamiliar people.
  5.  Irregular temperament moves the youngster to escape the source of stress by needing to eat, drink, sleep, or use the bathroom at irregular times when he or she does not really have the need.
  6. Low sensory threshold temperament is evident when the youngster complains about tight clothes and people staring and refuses to be touched by others.
  7. Negative mood temperament is found when kids appear lethargic, sad, and lack the energy to perform a task.
  8. Negative persistent temperament is seen when the youngster seems stuck in his or her whining and complaining.
  9. Poor adaptability temperament shows itself when kids resist, shut down, and become passive-aggressive when asked to change activities.

Temper tantrums are:
  • a normal part of learning independence and mastery
  • a sign of frustration that a child can't do something comfortably
  • a way a young child lets out strong emotions before he/she is able to express them in socially acceptable ways
  • are most common among two and 3-year-olds, which is probably why the phrase "terrible twos" was invented
  • are not contagious, although the behavior of those around a tantrum can play into it
  • occur in about 80% of children between the ages of 1 and 4
  • disruptive or undesirable behavior or emotional outbursts displayed in response to unmet needs or desires, or an inability to control emotions stemming from frustration or difficulty expressing the particular need or desire
  • generally begin around age 12-18 months, get worse between 2 and 3 years, then decrease rapidly until age 4, after which they should be seldom seen
  • most likely to occur when a child is afraid, overtired, or uncomfortable
  • often a cry for help: your child is trying to get your attention
  • can be an extremely constructive part of the development of a healthy child

  • can learn from their child by understanding the situation that caused the temper tantrum to erupt
  • can learn how to nurture and discipline effectively
  • may be tempted to be loud or angry, but tantrums are a time to be calm
  • may need to hug their child who is crying, and say they will always love him or her no matter what, but that the behavior has to change
  • may understand what a toddler says only 50 percent of the time
  • need to understand that temper tantrums are a normal part of early child development
  • often take the blame if their toddlers seem out of control
  • should choose which situations call for limits and which can be overlooked
  • should notify their child’s physician if the tantrums increase in intensity, the child holds their breath or faints during tantrums, the child’s behaviors are destructive, the child often hurts themselves or other people, the child displays signs of a mood disorder
  • should try to catch their children doing something good and compliment them several times a day

Young children don't have evil plans to frustrate or embarrass their parents. All young children from time to time will whine, complain, resist, cling, argue, hit, shout, run, and defy their teachers and parents. Temper tantrums, although normal, can become upsetting to teachers and parents because they are embarrassing, challenging, and difficult to manage. When children’s need for independence collides with the parents’ and teachers’ needs for safety and conformity, the conditions are perfect for a power struggle and a temper tantrum.


They want independence and self-control to explore their environment. To give your child a sense of control, let him or her make appropriate choices. Give children control over little things whenever possible by giving choices. Try to intervene before the child is out of control.


After your child quiets down, you might say, “I noticed your behavior, but that won't get my attention.”

Prevention for Parents—

It is much easier to prevent temper tantrums than it is to manage them once they have erupted. Here are some tips for preventing temper tantrums and some things you can say:
  • Avoid boredom. Say, “You have been working for a long time. Let’s take a break and do something fun.”
  • Change environments, thus removing the youngster from the source of the temper tantrum. Say, “Let’s go for a walk.”
  • Choose your battles. Teach kids how to make a request without a temper tantrum and then honor the request. Say, “Try asking for that toy nicely and I’ll get it for you.”
  • Create a safe environment that kids can explore without getting into trouble. Childproof your home or classroom so kids can explore safely.
  • Distract kids by redirection to another activity when they tantrum over something they should not do or cannot have. Say, “Let’s read a book together.”
  • Do not ask kids to do something when they must do what you ask. Do not ask, “Would you like to eat now?” Say, “It’s suppertime now.”
  • Establish routines and traditions that add structure. For teachers, start class with a sharing time and opportunity for interaction.
  • Give kids control over little things whenever possible by giving choices. A little bit of power given to the youngster can stave off the big power struggles later. “Which do you want to do first, brush your teeth or put on your pajamas?”
  • Increase your tolerance level. Are you available to meet the youngster’s reasonable needs? Evaluate how many times you say, “No.” Avoid fighting over minor things.
  • Keep a sense of humor to divert the youngster’s attention and surprise the youngster out of the tantrum.
  • Keep off-limit objects out of sight and therefore out of mind. In an art activity keep the scissors out of reach if kids are not ready to use them safely.
  • Make sure that kids are well rested and fed in situations in which a temper tantrum is a likely possibility. Say, “Supper is almost ready, here’s a cracker for now.”
  • Provide pre-academic, behavioral, and social challenges that are at the youngster’s developmental level so that the youngster does not become frustrated.
  • Reward kids for positive attention rather than negative attention. During situations when they are prone to temper tantrums, catch them when they are being good and say such things as, “Nice job sharing with your friend.”
  • Signal kids before you reach the end of an activity so that they can get prepared for the transition. Say, “When the timer goes off 5 minutes from now it will be time to turn off the TV and go to bed.”
  • When visiting new places or unfamiliar people explain to the youngster beforehand what to expect. Say, “Stay with your assigned buddy in the museum.”

Intervention for Parents—

There are a number of ways to handle a temper tantrum. Strategies include the following:
  • Hold the youngster who is out of control and is going to hurt himself or herself or someone else. Let the youngster know that you will let him or her go as soon as he or she calms down. Reassure the youngster that everything will be all right, and help the youngster calm down. Parents may need to hug their youngster who is crying, and say they will always love him or her no matter what, but that the behavior has to change. This reassurance can be comforting for a youngster who may be afraid because he or she lost control.
  • If the youngster has escalated the tantrum to the point where you are not able to intervene in the ways described above, then you may need to direct the youngster to time-out (see “Resources”). If you are in a public place, carry your youngster outside or to the car. Tell the youngster that you will go home unless he or she calms down. In school warn the youngster up to three times that it is necessary to calm down and give a reminder of the rule. If the youngster refuses to comply, then place him or her in time-out for no more than 1 minute for each year of age.
  • Remain calm and do not argue with the youngster. Before you manage the youngster, you must manage your own behavior. Spanking or yelling at the youngster will make the tantrum worse.
  • Talk with the youngster after the youngster has calmed down. When the youngster stops crying, talk about the frustration the youngster has experienced. Try to help solve the problem if possible. For the future, teach the youngster new skills to help avoid temper tantrums such as how to ask appropriately for help and how to signal a parent or teacher that the he or she knows they need to go to “time away” to “stop, think, and make a plan.” Teach the youngster how to try a more successful way of interacting with a peer or sibling, how to express his or her feelings with words and recognize the feelings of others without hitting and screaming.
  • Think before you act. Count to 10 and then think about the source of the youngster’s frustration, this youngster’s characteristic temperamental response to stress (hyperactivity, distractibility, moodiness), and the predictable steps in the escalation of the temper tantrum.
  • Try to intervene before the youngster is out of control. Get down at the youngster’s eye level and say, “You are starting to get revved up, slow down.” Now you have several choices of intervention.
  • You can ignore the tantrum if it is being thrown to get your attention. Once the youngster calms down, give the attention that is desired.
  • You can place the youngster in time away. Time away is a quiet place where the youngster goes to calm down, think about what he or she needs to do, and, with your help, make a plan to change the behavior.
  • You can positively distract the youngster by getting the youngster focused on something else that is an acceptable activity. For example, you might remove the unsafe item and replace with an age-appropriate toy.

Post-Tantrum Management—
  • Do not reward the youngster after a tantrum for calming down. Some kids will learn that a temper tantrum is a good way to get a treat later.
  • Explain to the youngster that there are better ways to get what he or she wants.
  • Never let the temper tantrum interfere with your otherwise positive relationship with the youngster.
  • Never, under any circumstances, give in to a tantrum. That response will only increase the number and frequency of the tantrums.
  • Teach the youngster that anger is a feeling that we all have and then teach her ways to express anger constructively.

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