Tantrums - causes and myths

Even the best-behaved children will throw a tantrum occasionally. Parenting and child behaviour expert Eileen Hayes shares some home truths about tantrums and the reasons behind them.

What is a tantrum?

Tantrums are emotional explosions from your child. Some result from anger and temper, where the child stamps, kicks, hits and screams, while others are distress-related, where they cry, sob and throw themselves on the floor. They are usually most common in the toddler years, and become easier to handle once a child develops greater language skills.

Points to think about

Tantrums are part of normal developmental behaviour for children aged 1-3 and over. They are not "naughty" or used deliberately to wind you up.

It’s been estimated that tantrums occur at least once a week in 50-80% of children, and one in five two-year olds have two or more tantrums a day.

A lot of behaviour we value in adults, such as having one's own ideas and being assertive, has its roots in "difficult" toddler behaviour.

Remember! Tantrums need an audience. Children don’t pop into the next room to have them.

Tantrum Triggers - some common causes

Frustration often due to limited language, or lacking the skills to complete tasks - for example: getting stuck with a jumper half-way on, or a piece of puzzle that won’t fit.

Being hungry or tired

Wanting things they can’t have – whether it’s sweets at the checkout, one more TV programme or a friend’s toy.

Wanting independence Wanting to walk, not ride in the buggy, to choose their own clothes, or to brush their own teeth.

Over-stimulation Common during exciting events like parties or Christmas.

Attention seeking If previous tantrums got lots of attention, this can become a pattern as kids grow.

Emotional overload When trying to cope with the world and the many new experiences a toddler has every day just feels like too much.

Tantrum myths

I must be a useless parent if my child has so many tantrums While loving, positive parenting can help keep tantrums to a minimum, other factors, like the child’s temperament, or the level of frustration he meets, will also have an influence. No matter how great a parent you are, most toddlers will have a tantrum at some stage.

My child does it deliberately when we’re out to embarrass me Toddlers really don’t think in that way! All their behaviour is an expression of their own needs and feelings, not trying to get at you, even though it can sometimes feel like that.

My child saves her tantrums for me – she’s good as gold with her childminder Believe it or not, this is a compliment! Your child feels most emotionally secure with you, and knows you will still love her no matter how she behaves. After being on best behaviour all day at nursery, it is common to boil over with parents.

Is there anything you can do to prevent tantrums? Check out our advice here.

Eileen Hayes is author of Tantrums - Understanding and Coping with your Child's Emotions by Hamlyn.  


Related links

No More Tantrums - top tips for parents: Parenting and child behaviour expert Eileen Hayes shows how to deal with tantrums and prevent them occurring in the first place!

How to Prevent Tantrums: No parent wants to live with tantrums - they're exhausting, upsetting and embarrassing too. Now top parenting expert Elizabeth Pantley explains how to tame those tantrums - before they've even started!

Discipline for Dads: Effective discipline requires positive attention and good relationships, says Tom Beardshaw from Fathers Direct. Tom gives his top tips for how parents can work together to discipline their children.

Putting a Stop to Whining: Every parent suffers through it: The loud, obnoxious, pull-your-hair-out whining of a child who wants his or her way, now. 

Calming your kids: how do you tame a wild child? It’s common for young children to express themselves physically when they don’t have enough words to say what they want or need. But there are some things you can do to ease their aggression.

Put a Stop to Biting: Up to a quarter of all children will bite others at some stage, with most parents conceeding that it's one of the worst things your child could do in public. And, it can be just as alienating for you as for your child...

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