What is a “Normal” Temper Tantrum?

So, what about those temper tantrums between 18 months and 4 years of age? Accordingcanstockphoto9758730 to a study, from Potegal, Kosorok, and Davidson,  the average temper tantrum for normally developing children is about 3 minutes, going from 1/2 to 5 minutes.

They noticed 2 different parts to most tantrums:

  • first is the anger phase
  • the second is the distress phase.

The anger phase occurs early in the tantrum with the classic screaming, kicking, hitting, stamping, throwing and stiffening up of body parts.  The second phase is the distress phase that is characterized with whining, crying and wanting some sort of attention, or contact, like wanting to be held, or grabbing on to someone’s leg, for example. The anger part of the tantrum will peak at the beginning, then give way to the distress part.  So, the longer the tantrum, the longer the distress component will last.

Another study by Belden, Tomson and Luby looked at how tantrums in normally developing children are different from those with other medical and developmental concerns.  They describe 5 abnormal tantrum types.  These include tantrums that are:

  • aggressive and violent toward the caregiver or to an object
  • tantrums that cause self- injury
  • having more than 5 tantrums a day
  • having tantrums that last more than 25 minutes on average
  • tantrums where the child can’t self- calm

If you have questions that your child has extreme tantrums, see your doctor as these may not be normal or may mean another problem.  For most children, being consistent, is the most important piece.  For the young children, ignoring the tantrum often will work, as the child isn’t getting any attention for the behavior.  For the older child, it is important for the child to learn to calm down, without having gotten his way.  Spanking the temper tantruming child will only prolong this self-calming brain action. Give that kid a hug, and love the child through those tantrums, as he learns self-control.