The father could see it coming. His two year old daughter was already starting to turn red in her face and her hands began to ball up into little fists.
Soon his daughter began screaming “No!” at a full, high pitched volume. At the same time, tears came streaming down her face. The father knew he had lost his daughter and that there was no reasoning with her now. He wondered how just telling her to get ready for bath time could trigger such a reaction.
The father is going through a time honored experience for most parents, the temper tantrum. Almost all children go through a period of temper tantrums when they are young and it is considered a normal part of development. The tantrums typically start around 18 month of age and fully blossom around 2 years of age. This is the main reason why this period in life has been called the terrible twos.
Just like the situation above, temper tantrums can arise during normal activities for children. These vary and can include having to get up in the morning, getting dressed, having visitors at the house, and getting ready to eat a meal. Temper tantrums appear to occur equally for boys and girls. Over half of all young children will have one or more tantrums per week.
There are several reasons why temper tantrums show up in two year olds. Part of the reason is that two year olds have developed to the point where they want more independence and the opportunity to explore. This leads them to test limits and see how far parents and other caregivers will let them go before stopping them. Inevitably there will come a point where a certain behavior will be stopped by parents which causes frustration in two year olds.
While all children experience frustration, two year olds lack the language skills to express their needs. The goal of a temper tantrum is to get parents to give into children’s demands or give them whatever they want. The most frustrating part of temper tantrums for parents is that it is impossible to reason with children when they are in the middle of a tantrum. Any attempt to do so often makes the tantrum worse. Many times the tantrum will stop only when children’s demands are met.
The good news is that most children will tantrum less and less as they get older. Three year olds are typically less impulsive than two year olds and have better language skills that they can use to let others know what they need. The tantrums at this age tend to be less frequent and less severe. However, some three year olds will continue to have temper tantrums if they have learned that it is an effective way to get what they want.
By the time a child turns four years old, they have the motor and physical skills to meet many of their own needs without needing to rely on others. They also continue to develop their language skills which gives them another way to express their anger and problem solve. Typically tantrums are rare after children turn five years old though they can still occur. In those rare situations, children are typically being confronted with challenging academic tasks or new social situations in school.
Parents can rest assured that temper tantrums in young children are a normal part of development. They should continue to set limits for their children and deal with tantrums when they arise. Eventually the tantrums will diminish and children will have better ways of dealing with their frustrations.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on July 19, 2015