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Tantrums – Tirades and Tyranny

tantrum-red-head“WHAT is a Tantrum?”

tan·trum noun. A fit of bad temper.

(according to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company and Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary, © 2002 Merriam-Webster, Inc.)  For purposes of our discussion, “Tantrums” include screaming, crying, flailing, throwing objects, head-banging, running into walls, etc., etc.

“WHO has tantrums?”

Everyone (at various points in time).

“WHEN are tantrums considered ‘normal’?”

Between the ages of 12 and 18 months tantrums may emerge – typically less than 6 tantrums per day, less than 10 minutes each.  Between the ages of 2 and 2-½ tantrums often PEAK (i.e., increase from the aforementioned baseline) in terms of frequency, intensity and/or duration.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) after age 3 tantrums are expected to taper off.  It is suggested that a you consult with a professional if your child causes harm to himself or others during tantrums, holds his breath, or intensifies tantrums after turning 4.  Of course, even if a tantrum is considered “normal”, there are several questions and behavior management decisions that you will need to make.   Read on…

“WHY does my child have Tantrums?”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there are many reasons why a child may have tantrums:

  • He may tantrum when he does not fully understand what you are saying.
  • He may tantrum when others do not understand what he wants or needs.
  • He may tantrum when he does not have the words to describe what he wants or needs.
  • He may tantrum when he is frustrated with his inability to solve a given problem.
  • He may tantrum when he has an illness or other physical discomfort.
  • He may tantrum when he is hungry.
  • He may tantrum when he is tired.
  • He may tantrum when he is anxious.
  • He may tantrum because he is reacting to your stress.
  • He may tantrum because of changes in his environment.
  • He may tantrum when he feels competitive or jealous of a friend or sibling.
  • He may tantrum when he wants attention.
  • He may tantrum when he is not yet able to do things he wants to do (e.g., making toys work, drawing things, etc).

“I know WHY my child has Tantrums.  Now how can I PREVENT Tantrums?”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers many ideas for the PREVENTION of temper tantrums:

  • Encourage your child to use words to describe how he feels and what he wants.
  • Set realistic, reasonable limits
  • State your rules simply and remain consistent.
  • Stick to a routine (to whatever extent possible).
  • Try to avoid potentially frustrating situations.
  • Don’t make outings or visits too long, and bring toys for distraction.
  • Have healthy snacks available.
  • Ensure that your child has enough rest.
  • Use redirection to another toy or activity (as long as you.
  • Listen to your child’s requests carefully, and be selective about saying “No.”
  • Be a good role model by remaining calm.
  • Make sure you have fun with your child every day.

“OK.  Now I know WHY my child has tantrums, but what about when my attempts to PREVENT the tantrum fail?  How do I MANAGE the tantrums?”

There are almost always identifiable REASONS for tantrums, but we should not let these REASONS become EXCUSES.  For example, if your child has a tantrum because he can’t communicate effectively, that is indeed unfortunate, and your long term goal will obviously be to boost his communication skills, however, the question still remains:  What do you do about the temper tantrum at that given moment in time?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends several options for MANAGING temper tantrums:

  • If possible, redirect your child to another toy or activity prior to his “erupting” into a “full-blown” tantrum (of course, the timing here is crucial and it is important to avoid inadvertently rewarding the tantrum by “redirecting” to a desirable toy or activity as your child demonstrates negative behavior).
  • Remain calm and do not give attention to the tantrum behavior.
  • Try to ignore minor tantrum behaviors, but stand nearby your child to show your support.
  • If you cannot remain calm, then leave the room.
  • Certain behaviors are NOT acceptable (e.g., hitting or kicking others, throwing objects in a potentially dangerous manner, prolonged screaming or yelling)—and these behaviors may be best addressed via a “time-out,” where you remove your child from a situation and either hold him or give him some time alone to calm and regain self-control (please see the “Time-Out” section in the previous chapter for a more detailed description).  A well-known guideline for “time-out” is one minute per year of age.  At the end of the Time-out, return to the room and either help your child get interested in something else, or (if your child is old enough), discuss what happened and consider alternative ways to deal with the situation for next time.

And finally, it is important to remember that temper tantrums are a very common part of growing up.  Tantrums are not necessarily easy to manage, but with a loving, consistent, and understanding approach, you will be able to help your child through this challenging part of his social-emotional growth and development.



“Temper Tantrums” are a very common way for young children to express frustration or assert independence.  Tantrums may involve: crying, screaming, rolling, throwing, kicking, hitting, biting, scratching, pinching, punching, head banging, and/or destroying property.  (When a bit older, some children may choose to call grandma to tell her what an unfair and mean parent you are!).  There are many ways that parents respond to temper tantrums, including variations of Teaching (e.g., redirecting to another activity, encouraging communication, use of praise/positive reinforcement, sticker charts), Ignoring (after first ensuring your child’s safety), and Punishing (or decreasing the negative behavior through use of humane, safe, effective techniques like “Time-out” or removal of privileges – when appropriate).  (For more information on specific behavior management techniques, please refer to FEATS FACTS on temper tantrums, entitled “Tantrums: Tirades and Tyranny”).  Of course, temper tantrums that occur outside of the home present special challenges, and it often becomes necessary to “transport the tantrumer.”  You run the risk of injury if during a tantrum you hold your child in a traditional positionè, because he will be in a position to potentially do damage by flailing, arching backward, hitting your face, scratching, etc.

So, given that our priority is always SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY, here are two safe ways to TRANSPORT a Tantrumer:  (1) The “SCOOP”, (2) The “FOOTBALL”.

1. The “SCOOP”

scoop-child-2In the situation shown here on the right, the child repeatedly tried to touch the barbeque.  He rejected the father’s attempts to redirect to another toy/activity and he persisted in his efforts to touch the barbeque when his father tried to teach him about the concepts of “hot” and “danger”.  Ignoring the tantrum was not an option in this situation because of the obvious need to keep the child safe.  Thus, “transporting the tantrumer” was necessary.

scoop-child-1The “SCOOP” technique is shown here.  With your child facing away from you, carry him by placing one hand under each arm.  Press inward with your hands against his ribs and be sure to wrap your thumbs over the top of the shoulders to help secure him.  Keep your arms bent only slightly to minimize the difficulty in carrying your child’s weight (keeping your arms bent slightly also minimizes the chance of injury in the unlikely event of a fall).  Straddle your legs a bit to minimize any “damage” to your shins from your child’s backward kicks.  Now you can begin to safely transport!

Advantages of “The Scoop”

  • Very secure.
  • Minimal chance of injury (to you or your child).
  • Minimal chance of your child breaking free.
  • Your child can calm and easily walk if he/she chooses.

Disadvantages of “The Scoop”:

  • Requires that you use two hands.
  • Strangers may glare at you and make comments.

man-holding-child-like-football-12. The “FOOTBALL”

Again, in this scene, the father’s efforts to teach and redirect were rejected by his son and ignoring the tantrum was obviously not an option in this situation given the proximity of the barbeque and the potential danger.  Thus, it was necessary to “transport the tantrumer”.

man-holding-child-like-football-2The “FOOTBALL” technique is shown here.  Place your child’s back against the side of your left rib cage.  Wrap your left arm around his rib cage, and place your left hand behind his right shoulder.  Be sure to place your left thumb in front of your child’s right shoulder to help secure and strengthen the hold.  Slightly lean forward so that some of his weight is taken by your hip, thus lessening the burden on your arm.  (Of course, you can reverse the instructions and use your right side/arm if you prefer).  Now you can begin to safely transport!

Advantages of “The Football”:   

  • Requires only one arm
  • Minimal chance of injury (to you or your child),
  • Minimal chance of your child breaking free.

Disadvantages of “The Football”

  • Can be disorienting for your child, and he/she, therefore, does not have the chance to easily move his/her feet along the floor to walk.
  • Using only one arm increases the risk of you dropping your child.
  • Strangers may glare at you and make comments.

It is crucial to NEVER transport or restrain a child by holding onto the hand, wrist, and/or forearm, because the unpredictable and intense pulling away can result in an elbow-, head-, or other injury.