Why kids throw temper tantrums?

Temper tantrums in children are common; so common that we've invented phrases like "terrible two's" to describe this stage of a child's development. By the time children get to be about 4-5 years old, however; you should see these tantrums declining significantly. Part of this has to do with brain maturation- the brain areas responsible for emotional control usually start showing strong development around 4-5 years of age. The other part has to do with language development- children at this age are better able to use their words to communicate their needs rather than throwing tantrums. Tantrums usually persist in children because they have learned that throwing tantrums helps them get their way- whether it's getting their parent's attention, getting the toy they want, or getting out of doing something they do not want to do. Overtime, if parents and caregivers feed into these tantrums, these behaviors can worsen to the point that they can be very challenging to manage.

If your child's tantrums are: frequent, occurring multiple times per week; prolonged, lasting more than 15 minutes in duration; intense, resulting in behaviors that are distressing, difficult to control, or dangerous; and impairing, resulting on strain on the parent-child relationship, difficulty succeeding in school, or making/keeping friendships, then it may be time to consider treatment for your child's tantrums.

Treating your child's temper tantrums

Research shows that the best treatment for temper tantrums is parent training. These treatments, such as Parent-child Interaction Therapy or Parent Management Training, have been shown to increase compliance, decrease tantrums and aggression, improve the parent-child relationship, and even improve the child's self-esteem. During parent training, parents learn skills on how to manage their children's behavior, including:

  • Having special time with your child
  • Increasing parental attention to positive behavior
  • Using effective commands to increase compliance
  • Using positive reinforcements (privileges, point charts) to increase compliance
  • Using consistent consequences for inappropriate behavior
  • How to ignore misbehavior and attend to appropriate behavior
  • How to handle more severe, infrequent behaviors




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