Temper Tantrums in Children: When Should You Worry?

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Every child goes through a phase where they throw temper tantrums. You’ve been there, we’ve been there, and chances are, our children will also experience them. But when temper tantrums become severe, and it starts to feel like your child is out of control or in danger of harming themselves or others, then there might be something more to it. 

How can you, as a parent, spot the differences and decide whether your child’s temper tantrums are normal, or if they’re a sign of something else, something more serious? That’s what we’re trying to figure out in this article. What are some tell-tale signs that your child might be dealing with an underlying issue, like anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, or something else? 

Things to look out for 

Before you start worrying and panicking every time your child has a crying fit or is acting aggressive, take a step back and consider the following: 

  • How often does your child throw temper tantrums? Have these episodes become more frequent?
  • How long do these temper tantrums usually last?
  • How extreme or severe are these temper tantrums? 
  • What are some of the triggers causing temper tantrums in your child? Can you see a pattern?
  • During such episodes, does your child become destructive? Are they a danger to themselves or others?

These are some of the most important questions you should ask yourself when trying to figure out if your child’s tantrums are normal. In most cases, temper tantrums should lessen in intensity and become less frequent as a child grows up, and eventually they should disappear completely. Of course, this is different for each child; some teenagers might be prone to throwing temper tantrums once in a while, but that doesn’t mean that anything is wrong – we all know that teens can be very dramatic sometimes, and we’ve probably done the same in our younger years. 

Signs that there might be something more going on

While temper tantrums are a normal phase of development, and they can happen in toddlers, young children, and even teenagers, there are some signs that might signal an underlying issue, like a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, or a disruptive behavioral disorder. These are some of the signs of concern that you might look out for:

  • Your child has very severe temper tantrums that leave them, and you, exhausted 
  • Temper tantrums are very frequent or becoming more frequent as time passes 
  • You never know what the exact triggers are for your child, temper tantrums seem to happen out of the blue
  • Your child becomes disruptive during a temper tantrum, breaking things, harming themselves, or others around them 
  • The temper tantrums seem to grow in duration, and it’s almost impossible to get your child to calm down
  • Your child becomes gradually more isolated, more withdrawn, or more aggressive, and everything seems to trigger them

According to the New York Times, one in nine children who throw temper tantrums have an underlying disorder waiting to be diagnosed. The sooner you’re able to identify the problem and start treating it, the better, and the severity of temper tantrums should gradually decrease until they disappear for good. 

How can you help your child?

If you’re unsure whether your child’s temper tantrums are normal or not, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health specialist, as soon as possible. If there is an underlying issue, it’s best to pinpoint it and start treatment immediately, before the temper tantrums become even more intense. 

A mental health expert specializing in children’s disorders will be able to provide guidance and a diagnosis, and recommend the best course of treatment. Be wary of specialists who recommend medication as the first course of action. Unless your child’s temper tantrums are extremely aggressive and they’re causing harm to themselves, medication should not be the first option. Instead, an expert might recommend behavioral therapy, mindfulness and anxiety-relieving exercises, and only prescribe medication as a last resort or as a way to complement the other activities. A therapist will also work with you, as parents, and observe your interactions to guide you on how to best react to your child’s behavior. 

All in all, temper tantrums are normal, and a natural phase of the development process. However, if you start suspecting that there might be more to it than that, start ‘playing detective.’ take note of what triggers a temper tantrum, how often, how much each episode lasts, and observe your child’s behavior. Try to see if your child throws tantrums in front of other people, as well, because most children will only throw a tantrum in front of their parents, or in front of people they trust, like a close relative. If they’re throwing tantrums at school or with a tutor or a babysitter, someone that they don’t know very well, it might also be a sign that something is off. Take note of everything you’re experiencing, and then talk to a mental health specialist to see whether this is normal growing–up behavior, or if there is an underlying issue. 

If you need someone to talk to about your child’s temper tantrums, but don’t know where to start, feel free to reach out to the Da Vinci Collaborative team, and let’s see how we can help. 

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