All toddlers and preschoolers have temper tantrums from time to time. The National Association of School Psychologists says that tantrums “are equally common in boys and girls and more than half of young children will have at one or more per week.” Tantrums include whining, complaining, resisting, clinging, arguing, hitting, shouting, running, and defiance. These behaviors become overwhelming to parents when they occur frequently and persist over an extended period of time. During such times, parents may wonder if their child needs therapy and what types of therapy are appropriate for young children.
Most parents find that there are common triggers for tantrums including bedtime, mealtime, getting up, getting dressed, bath time, when parents are on the phone, when there are visitors in the home, car rids, and public places. Triggers may also include transitions, specific interactions with other children, directives from an adult, group activities. For most parents, this seems like they can occur at any time and any place.
So what’s “normal” and what’s not when it comes to tantrums?
- 18-36 months – Toddlers will be testing their limits. They are developmentally egocentric. They want independence but lack self-control. They get easily frustrated and will have tantrums when they don’t get what they want or when they can’t do something they want to do. During this time, encourage their independence but don’t give in to the tantrums. You’ll be setting yourself up for more battles in the years to come.
- 3 year olds – During this age, children should be able to talk more to express their feelings. They’re still pretty egocentric but are able to be more independent. Tantrums should be diminishing. Children may still engage in tantrums, especially if they’ve been effective before. Continue to stand firm during the tantrums and encourage your child to talk about their feelings instead of acting on them.
- 4 year olds – By the time children are 4, they are usually much more independent and verbal. They have better problem solving skills, too. Tantrums should just be occasional at this point and usually are associated with a demanding task and new interpersonal situations at school.
A Gainesville play therapist with Locascio Consulting recommends that parents be specific when talking to children about behaviors such as tantrums. For example, tell them that yelling at you is not okay, but they may use their big kid voices to talk to you. Allow them to express their feelings and empathize.
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