“My child throws tantrums all the time! Is this normal?”
“When is too much too much?”
“When does the behavior move from a phase to a problem?”
People don’t call them “the terrible twos and threes” for nothing – this is the time when littles begin expressing their emotions and feelings in ways that aren’t always pleasing to adults…usually through screaming, crying, and flailing around on the ground! This is normal behavior – after all, they haven’t mastered speech and want to get their sentiments across to you. They have needs too!
But how do you know if it is a one-time tantrum, a phase, or if it is highlighting a bigger underlying problem? When does a normal phase become a behavioral issue?
Differences Between Tantrums and Behavioural Disorders
Tantrums are how young children process difficult feelings and they are extremely common in children aged 18-36 months. At around 42-48 months – or those who are 3 1/2 to 4 years old – tantrum-throwing decreases significantly. Sure, tantrums will still happen from time to time, but the occurrences are fewer and farther in between. Keep in mind, things like stress, hunger, exhaustion can bring on a tantrum from out of nowhere, so as a parent it is your job to keep tabs on the needs of your child!
- Typically last around 10 minutes or less according to Web.MD
More Serious Behavioral Issues
- Tantrums that last more than 25 minutes
- Frequent tantrums
- Violent tantrums (90% of their tantrums are kicking, hitting, biting, etc)
- Inability to calm down after a tantrum
- Purposeful self-injury
- Aggression toward caregivers (If this happened more than half the time in the last 10 to 20 tantrums, it may signal disruptive disorders)
An article by NBC News states the following:
Diagnosis of more serious behavior disorders, including oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder, are currently based on signs and symptoms, such as stealing, vandalism, and rape that would only be seen in older kids.
But “there’s more and more evidence that these kinds of mental health problems emerge early in childhood,” says Lauren S. Wakschlag, an associate professor at the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Toddlers with DBD (disruptive behavior disorder), can get “stuck” in an emotion, Wakschlag says. “They get so upset, they can’t come down,” she adds. And while it’s normal for any toddler to have meltdowns, children who have this disorder can have 20-minute tantrums as many as 10 times a day, according to Wakschlag.
The Chicago researcher notes another sign that can spell trouble: when a toddler is physically aggressive — hitting, biting, or kicking — not just with other children, but also with adults.
Common Causes of Bad Behaviour in Children:
- Behavior is modeled after parents or those close to them. If a parent displays signs of aggression or curses often, a child will tend to pick up on this behavior and display it around their peers and other adults.
- Disruptive Behaviour Disorders (DBD) – includes ADHD, Bi-polarism, or other kinds of psychosis.
- Autism – Children can appear to be remote, indifferent, isolated, and have difficulty forming emotional connections with other people. This disorder can manifest itself in mental retardation, language delays, and other children are very high-functioning with intelligence and speech intact. Autism affects each person differently, so it is important to talk to your doctor – early intervention is key.
- Abuse – Toddlers often can’t tell you something is wrong, so it comes out in their behavior. Sudden changes in behavior or performance, being frightened easily, or if your toddler has bumps, bruises (not from falling down from learning to walk), lacerations or the like should all be indicators that a babysitter, family member or teacher is hurting your child. If you suspect someone IS hurting or abusing your child, get a hold of the authorities and start an investigation. It is imperative that your child grows up feeling safe, nurtured and loved!
In summary, being a new parent is already a task in itself. If you were anything like me you were constantly second-guessing yourself and wondering if you are setting the right example for your child. While tantrums are normal, you should talk to your doctor or pediatrician about any extreme behavior your child shows. At the very least, you know what is going on and what to do about it, or have the peace of mind knowing your child is within the bounds of normal behavior. Happy parenting Springfield!