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Causes of Temper Tantrums in Children and How to Deal With Them

Updated on October 11, 2014

Temper tantrum is one of the hardest situations for a parent to deal with when his/her child exhibits one of several behavioral problems associated with temper tantrum. The parent doesn’t know whether to cane, shout, hit, scream or leave the child alone where he/she is and go to a quiet place. Any parent knows it is not an easy task to deal with a child exhibiting temper tantrums especially in public places.

Temper tantrums are behavioral problems children exhibit in order to pass the message or indicate their frustration or anger. The tantrums range from the child kicking to lying on the floor, screaming, holding his/her breath, whining, crying, stomping or hitting the adult or his/her sibling. These are the symptoms which children usually exhibit to show their frustrations.

Causes of Temper Tantrums

Children between 2-3 years are usually unable to express well their frustrations in coherent language. At this stage, their reception capacity is higher than their expressing capacity. An example is a child who is hungry. Since the child is unable to say in a well-understood sentence or language he is hungry, the parent might not be able to understand what the child is trying to say. Therefore, the child uses tantrum to pass the message - the frustration of the parent inability to understand him.

MedicineNet clearly notes this when it states, “The receptive language of a 2-year-old child is numbered in the thousands, while the expressive skill generally is 150-200 words. Perhaps most 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.”

In the world of a child between 2-3 years-old, the view of the world is egocentric. They want what they want without question. They want what they want because it is theirs. If the child wants a knife and the parent refuses, the child might scream or hold his breath to show his frustration or anger of being refused what he asked for, the knife.

There are instances when a child wants something for good reasons but he is unable to ask in a well-understood language. The child sees his parent cannot understand, therefore he/she turns to tantrums to show his frustration of not being able to ask for that something in coherent language.

There is no age-group of children who are good at testing the limits of their parents’ patience than kids of between 2-4 years. It is as if they have perfected their art or skills to test how far their parents can give in or how far they can break rules and get away with without receiving any form of punishment.

As children grow with the fact they live in an egocentric world, they want to do things their own way. This comes as a result of them trying to master their world. If a child sets to do a specific task, for example, arranging blocks but is unable; the child uses what is at his disposal to show his frustration at not being able to accomplish the task – tantrums.

Crying | Source

Also, this age group seeks attention. If they don’t get the attention, they will use tantrums to get it. If they don’t get the attention positively, they will get it negatively as long it is attention. Consider a child who wants you to see how she has arranged the cars in a straight line but you refuse to look because you are busy doing something else. The child will scream to get your attention.

There are other causes of temper tantrums. “Some of the causes are indication of family problems,” states Colorado State University. The indicators are “inconsistent disciplining, criticizing too much, parent being too protective or neglectful, children not having enough love and attention from the mother and father, problems with the marriage, interference with play, emotional problems from either parent, meeting a stranger, rivalry with brothers or sisters, having problem with speech, and illness. Other causes of temper tantrums include being angry and tired.” Also when the child is hungry, upset, worried or doesn’t know what to tell the parent how he/she feels.

Why Yelling Is a Waste of Time and Energy
Why Yelling Is a Waste of Time and Energy | Source

How to Deal with Temper Tantrums in Children

When the child exhibits temper tantrum, remain calm. Don’t become all of a sudden emotional. Staying calm will enable you to know how to control the situation or know how to deal with it without getting emotional. You can tell the child until he/she calms down you will not talk with him/her what he/she wants.

Normally, children have short-attention span, therefore, parents can distract them to a different activity or thing or redirect them entirely to something else. This works well with young toddlers. When it comes to older toddlers, this trick doesn’t work well. Older toddlers will know you are playing with their minds.

Yelling At Kids Could Be Just As Harmful As Physical Discipline, Study Suggests
Yelling At Kids Could Be Just As Harmful As Physical Discipline, Study Suggests | Source

As a parent do not be overly authoritarian or overly permissive. Do not use too much power and discipline nor less power and discipline. There should be a balance and it should be consistent. “Authoritative parents learn daily and how to discipline their children effectively by setting standards, enforcing rules, expressing authority when necessary, and yet recognizing children’s rights,” notes Colorado State University.

In some circumstances ignoring the child is a better solution until he/she becomes calmer. Continue doing what you were doing before the tantrum begun.

If a child knows your limit, he/she will use it to his/her advantage. As a parent, do not give in no matter how much the child screams.

Never reward them by bribing them with something in order to end the tantrum. This encourages them to use these behaviors to get what they want. Reward them for good behavior.

Since children want to be in control, it is proper to let them have control; over small things. This is especially the case when it comes to choosing. It allows them to be independent of which they always long. Example, “Do you want a glass of yoghurt or a glass of mango juice?”

In some situations a parent can lock the child in a room and let the child know you will not open for him/her until he/she calms down or learns how to control his/her behavior. This allows the child to master how to control his/her bad behavior.

Discover the reasons why your child is exhibiting temper tantrum. What is he/she trying to communicate? Is she feeling sick or hungry and she wants to let you know? Is she seeking your attention? There are times when the tantrum is justified. It is important in every tantrum to know why the child is exhibiting any of these behaviors before taking any other necessary step.


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