Understanding Toddlers and Tantrums

An interesting piece in the NYTimes this week discusses temper tantrums, and what they do or do not tell us about a young child’s emotional state. Tantrums are most common around ages two or three, and gradually decrease as a child grows older. According to Dr. Egger, chairwoman of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU, childhood tantrums can be thought of as frustrations from a child who is fearful or angry but is still developing language skills to express these feelings.

 

According to the article, approaching childhood tantrums with adult reasoning or anger might not be productive or helpful. The neuroscientist interviewed in the article, Dr. Potegal, describes the emotions in a tantrum as a combination of anger and distress - anger usually subsides in a tantrum, but distress might remain fairly constant.

 

Dr. Egger said that a parent’s role during a tantrum is not to become stressed or angry herself - a parent should instead act as a container for the child’s feelings, since the child will not feel in control of the situation. Tantrums “typically happen when children are hungry or tired or when there has been some significant change in their routine,” and confusion and frustration can easily manifest themselves in these situations.

 

Experts say the tantrums parents should be concerned about are the ones that occur in public and the ones where children or toddlers become violent and bite or kick. If parents find themselves changing their routines or avoiding triggers in fear of setting off a tantrum, they should seek help instead of struggling on their own. Though this usually isn’t the case, tantrums might be an indication of an underlying developmental problems such as ADHD, or even a medical one.