A temper tantrum, sometimes called a hissy fit or a conniption fit, is a raw and unplanned extreme emotional response to frustration, emotionally overwhelming situations, anger, sadness, unexpected events, or opposition by another person. Such a fit is most commonly associated with young children, usually beginning when children are about two years old. Children can continue to have daily tantrums for a while, but usually, if they are met with the appropriate methods of controlling them, learn within a few years to master them.
This does not mean that older children can’t throw a temper tantrum, and even adults may occasionally have one. Most commonly though, about 80% of children from the age range of two to four are likely to have frequent fits of temper. This is often the result of the child not having enough language or experience of emotions to express himself more clearly. Some pediatricians and child development experts also suggest that children are vulnerable to tantrums when attempting to master new skills or reach a developmental milestone.
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, the renowned physician, has suggested that when children are close to reaching a developmental milestone, like talking fluently or becoming more independent from parents, they tend to show regression in other areas of development. His explanation of hissy fits focuses on how the child’s behavior may regress negatively, as the child learns to assert himself and be more independent from parents. Even being slightly opposed by a parent can set off a tantrum because the child’s world is an egocentric one, and from this perspective, he should get what he wants at all times.
During a temper tantrum a child may scream, hit, fling himself on the floor, be aggressive toward parents or siblings, throw things, kick things, and generally doesn’t respond to reason. Though the average fit lasts a couple of minutes, some children show remarkable persistence in this area and can carry on a tantrum for a long time, much longer than this average. This is especially true if the child is older.
Most parenting experts suggest, that when at all possible, parents can diffuse a temper tantrum by ignoring it. Occasionally, the tantrum is so severe that a child may need to be gently held in order to keep the child from self-harm. When efforts to diffuse the situation are not helping the child have fewer fits of anger, parents may want to speak to the child’s pediatrician about their frequency and severity. This is especially the case when an older child suddenly begins to have tantrums, or when a child past the age of four shows no signs of slowing down his tantrums.
Though it can be hard not to feel angry or frustrated by a tantrum in a child, parents will generally do a child a disservice by responding with anger. Similarly, if a parent immediately capitulates to the child’s desires, he or she will reinforce that bad behavior results in the child getting what he wants.