Dr. Sarah Adams

The doctor is in: Not your average tantrum

Are there signs that a temper tantrum is not just another run-of-the-mill tantrum?

Studies show 7 out of 10 18- to 24-month-olds and more than three-quarters of 3- to 5-year-olds have temper tantrums. So if temper tantrums are so commonly seen, when are they not just another run-of-the-mill tantrum? 

Just like with many pediatric concerns, if these tantrums become more frequent or more severe, there may be a concern. Consider whether the tantrums are lasting longer or if the child is causing more aggression towards others, objects and/or injuring themselves. Typical children may do this from time to time, but kids with problems show these signs in nearly every tantrum. Another concern would be if the child stays angry for a long period of time.   

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What are some causes of not-so-run-of-the-mill temper tantrums? They include acute or chronic sleep loss or dysfunction, speech delays, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, hypoglycemia, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, Autism Spectrum Disorder, medication side effects and certain genetic disorders.   

There are three types of tantrums: a demand for attention (“Hold me”), a demand for tangibles (food, games, activities), and an escape from demand (“I don’t want to get dressed”). The first two can only be solved by ignoring the tantrum. In the third type of tantrum, the child hopes by acting out they will get out of doing what you want them to do! So “help” them do it is the best advice.   

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s behavior, run-of-the-mill or not, please discuss with your pediatrician or look into seeing a pediatric psychologist to help support your family.   

— Dr. Sarah Adams, pediatrician, Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics

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