Temper tantrums after age 4 or 5 are actually still developmentally normal. Children have tantrums when they are feeling overwhelmed. Here are some ways to understand and help your child with tantrums even if they are past the toddler years.
You might have expected your child’s temper tantrums to disappear after the toddler years. While it’s most common for children between the ages of 18 months to 4 years to have tantrums, they can happen when your child is older too.
Has your four, five, six or even ten year old ever melted down into a pile of tears or flung into a fit of rage?
Do you occasionally have to deal with anger, fits of screaming, kicking or door slamming from your 4 year old? Maybe even from your tween or teen?
Do you wonder if your child’s tantrums past the age of three are normal?
Katie Hurley, child and adolescent psychotherapist and author of “The Happy Kid Handbook.” explains that tantrums in older kids are often wrapped up in unspoken fear, frustration, sadness, or anxiety.
Many parents worry about tantrums and big emotional outbursts past tthe early years. There is usually more acceptance of how normal a tantrum can be for a two year old. As soon as child is past a certain age, they are expected to have mastered self-regulation skills.
Knowing how to calm down and not throw a fit takes a lot of practice.
As children grow, they can learn to understand and manage outbursts, tantrums and intense emotions.
Your help is very much needed in this process.
Tantrums, from toddlers and beyond are simply the result of emotional overload.
Frustration, anger, disappointment, sadness, even joy can lead to a tantrum.
No Bad Kids
After the toddler years, we seem to be surprised, sometimes even annoyed when our “big” kid has a tantrum. Does your mind ever jump to negative labels like difficult, dramatic, bratty child when a tantrum shows up?
It’s easy to think a child may have “emotional problems” since they can’t keep it together when they discover a play date was cancelled or they lose at a game of connect four.
Andy Smithson, LCSW and Tru Parenting founder acknowledges that parents are thrown off guard and a little bewildered when kids have tantrums past toddlerhood.
It’s not as common, and the tantrums aren’t happening all the time, but they are really not a sign that you have a bad child.
Kids, no matter their age, don’t have tantrums because they are bad.
Kids have tantrums because they don’t know what to do with their fear. The fear becomes anger and anger becomes hurting others, lashing out, isolating themselves or screaming.
The Science behind Tantrums and Learning To Calm Down
Research supports that positive parenting actually helps children during tantrums.
Children achieve self-regulation skills and reduce tantrums better if they don’t have to suffer any kind of isolation, shame or punishment.
Children that feel a positive connection to their parents, are less likely to melt into tantrums and anger fits.
Let’s stress the less likely here, because no matter how much you may listen and support your child to learn how to calm down, overwhelm can happen.
A warm, supportive parenting style can help children have less inner turmoil and the tools to deal with overwhelm when it creeps up.
Here are some Positive Ways for Supporting Your Child During a Tantrum and Other Strong Emotions
1. Change your Lens
Remember that children are not bad, they are simply lacking the words or skills to express their rage and frustration. Change your lens from seeing “manipulation, coercion and bratty-ness” to seeing unsolved problems and a request for guidance.
2. Respond with Respect and Kindness (To boys and girls alike)
Research has shown that a double standard exists when it comes to the expression of anger. Adults (parents, teachers and caregivers) tend to respond more negatively to boys that cry.
When girls cry parents are usually kinder, warmer and calmer. Boys need compassion and loving, clear guidance just as much as girls.
3. Stay Present
When Psychotherapist and Parent Coach Dr. Jessica Michaelson‘s son has a tantrum she finds it helpful to say “Thanks for letting me know you need help.” Then, she stays near by to offer support.
Trying to reason during a tantrum usually doesn’t work, but Dr. Michaelson adds that saying something kind like “I’m right here, I hear you.” can help. If you know your child doesn’t want you to say anything, that’s fine too. Just being willing to be available when the storm cools down counts too.
Positive Discipline Trainer Casey O’Roarty agrees with Dr. Michaelson and adds “When my boy was melting down big time I sat with him and tried to validate his emotions.” She added that using a validating, compassionate and present approach helped her stay calm too and not react badly. She said “I ended up letting him know that I loved him and that I would be available to talk when he was ready. He came to find me, and apologized for gettting so worked up!”
5. Stop behaviors not feelings
Psychologist Sara Dimerman suggests stepping in to stop negative behaviors. It’s important to “keep boundaries for acceptable behaviour in place.” At the same time, Katie Hurley says “children need help unpacking their feelings and verbalizing their thoughts.” It can feel like a tricky balancing act to stop behaviors but allow feelings. With my three children,we try to remember this principle by mad yes, mean no. So it’s alright to feel mad or anything really, but it’s not alright to hurt someone or destroy property.
6. Get Creative
Andy Smithson says “Big kid tantrums require parents to use their heads, be creative problem solvers and find ways to work with children instead of against them.” I agree. Sometimes children need help learning to express their anger and a reliable, personalized calm down plan. A glitter jar may work for one child, where the next may chuck that glitter jar on the wall.
In my book 12 Alternatives to Time Out I have a whole chapter on how to help parents and children create their very own personalized calm down plan and routine.
When is too much anger or explosive behavior something to worry about?
Healthy children challenge parents, healthy children also have emotional overloads and frustrations. The key here is to make sure that your big kid’s tantrums are not interfering with every day life or becoming the center of your relationship.
If you are making an effort to teach self-regulation skills, modeling how to stay calm, problem solving and allowing your child to fully feel frustrated but sense tantrums are getting worse or aggression is escalating, it may be helpful to talk to a parent coach, counselor or pediatrician.
Peace & Be Well,