Kicking and Screaming: Is it Really a Tantrum?!?

Toddler Screaming Closeup
Photo Amy McTigue|CC

A temper tantrum is an uncontrollable release of anger, lasting longer than a few minutes. Screaming, throwing, yelling, hitting, crying, biting, and head-banging are all hallmarks of tantrum behavior.

Understanding why young children are prone to fierce and powerful emotional outbursts can help parents respond effectively with compassion and empathy.

Characteristics of Temper Tantrums

Age: Sometime between 12-18 months old children start having intense emotional outbursts typically known as “tantrums.” Some children may only exhibit mild tantrums, some do not have them until closer to age three, and a few children will never have outward tantrums at all.

Toddler on ground having a temper tantrum B&W photo
Photo Vivian Chen|CC

Intense: All healthy children (and adults) will occasionally cry, become angry, and exhibit brief emotional outbursts as a normal part of living. However, tantrums are intensely loud and physical, and of long duration – sometimes lasting as long as 20-30 minutes.

Inevitable: During a tantrum, children really do “lose it” – they are no longer rational or in control of their actions. Although tantrums can sometimes be avoided or prevented, once it begins, a tantrum generally cannot be stopped until the rage and frustration are fully released by the child.

Normal: Temper tantrums can be frustrating for a parent, but they are a normal part of development for toddlers as they learn to cope with the ‘big feelings’ of frustration and anger.

Diverse: A child’s personality and temperament are factors determining how often and how intense their tantrums become. Children who have more expressive tantrums may be more challenging for parents to deal with, but frequent tantrums are not necessarily indicative of anything more than a lively personality.

Expressing emotions is a healthy part of emotional well-being.

Every child gets frustrated, but learning how to productively deal with those feelings takes practice and developmental maturity.

Parents will not be able to prevent all temper tantrums, but they can learn to deal with them by recognizing them, staying calm, being consistent, and setting boundaries.