There isn’t a parent in the world who hasn’t witnessed a toddler in the grip of a full-blown, red-faced, flailing, screaming tantrum. As shocking as these outbursts can be, occasional tantrums are part of a child’s normal development. Young children have not yet achieved the verbal capacity to fully communicate their feelings or the self-control necessary to tamp down their surging emotions.
But not all tantrums are created equal. Certain patterns can be red flags that suggest professional help may be warranted.
Your child may pass through a phase when he or she is having a lot of tantrums. But if the frequency doesn’t slow over the months, despite all your efforts to teach him how to identify and control his outbursts, there may be a more serious underlying issue. Some studies have shown that children who experience at least five tantrums per day several days a week may be at risk for disruptive disorders, including ADHD.
Biting, kicking, hitting, and throwing things are part of many an angry toddler outburst. After all, it feels good to punch that pillow, right? But if you find yourself ducking for cover or streaked with bruises almost every time your child has a tantrum, there may be underlying issues causing the outbursts, such as depression, oppositional defiant disorder, or ADHD.
There may be no behavior quite as gut-wrenchingly disturbing as seeing a child hurt himself. Yet in the heat of a tantrum, some toddlers and preschoolers may exhibit self-injurious behavior like biting themselves, banging their heads, or scratching their skin raw. In these heartbreaking cases, the length and frequency of the tantrums don’t matter as much as the specific, consistent behavior, which strongly suggests the necessity of psychiatric intervention.
A ten-minute tantrum might seem like forever to a parent trying to buy groceries in the check-out line, but if your child calms down in less than a half hour, consider yourself fortunate. Tantrums that routinely stretch for 30 minutes or more can be a sign of a more serious underlying problem. The same can be said if only extreme and external methods (such as a bribe or physical removal from the scene) succeed in calming the child.
If you have any concerns about your child’s ongoing behavior, never hesitate to seek out a mental health professional. Early intervention can do wonders.