Temper tantrums are disruptive behaviors in the form of angry outbursts that may be physical (hitting, biting, pushing), verbal (crying, screaming, whining), or persistent grouchiness and petulance. Tantrums are common in young children; up to 80 percent of two- and three-year-olds experience tantrums, and 20 percent have daily tantrums.
Tantrums consistent with normal toddler development reflect a striving for emotional independence and limited expressive language skills during frustrating events. Other contributing factors include the child's temperament. Intense, persistent children, shy, fearful children, and those with frequent episodes of stranger anxiety are more likely to experience tantrums. A delay in language development, hearing impairment, and disorders of the central nervous system may limit coping strategies and lead to tantrums.
A child's environment modifies the frequency and intensity of temper tantrums. Behavioral expectations and responses to disruptive behaviors by parents, teachers, and other caretakers have a strong influence on tantrums. Intolerance for minor temper outbursts, negative verbal or physical responses, inconsistent responses, and a limited understanding of normal development in young children affect the nature of tantrums. Parent education and principles of behavior modification applied to discipline form the foundation for an effective parental response.
See also: DISCIPLINE; PARENTING
Stein, Martin T. "Difficult Behaviors: Temper Tantrums to Conduct Disorders." In Abraham M. Rudolf ed., Rudolf's Pediatrics, 20th edition. Stamford, CT: Appleton and Lange, 1996.
Martin T. Stein
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