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7 Tips On How To Deal With 6 Year Old Tantrums

| Are 6 Year Old Tantrums Normal | How Many A Day Is Normal | When To Worry | How To Deal With |

Six-year-olds’ tantrums can leave their parents frustrated, overwhelmed, and helpless. 

Some parents worry this may be a sign that something is wrong with their child. In school-aged children, tantrums or raging outbursts are the most common child behavior issues for parents seeking psychiatric treatment.

Temper tantrums are a normal part of child development. However, 6-year-olds with intense tantrums that persist into later childhood are at risk for maladjustment and even mental disorders later in life​1​

6 year old tantrums

Are 6 Year Old Tantrums Normal?

It is normal for six-year-olds to have tantrums from time to time. However, it is a cause for concern if the child frequently displays violent tantrums, engages in self-injurious behaviors, is aggressive toward objects, or has a difficult time recovering on their own​2​.

In studies, violence and frequent tantrums indicated disruptive tendencies, while self-harm and aggression toward objects were more prevalent in depressed children.

How Many Tantrums A Day Is Normal?

There are no straight answers to this question. Angry child outbursts three times a week has very different consequences than having an explosive tantrum once a week that requires class evacuation​3​

Rather than judging from tantrum frequency, consider their intensity, duration, other accompanying behaviors (e.g. aggression, self-injurious behavior, etc.), and consequences (e.g. school suspension, family life disruption, etc.).

Due to these reasons, in spite of the fact that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lists blanket tantrum cut-off points in various disorders, they are not accurate for assessing the normal number of tantrums a day for six-year-olds.

It is important to distinguish not only between how often a child loses their temper but also what they do and how long the tantrum lasts.

Furthermore, tantrum intensity and frequency tend to decrease with age. If the frequency increases rather than decreases, it may indicate a problem​4​.

When To Worry

Here are some of the factors to consider when assessing the seriousness of your child’s tantrum issues.

Irritability

Some children are more reactive. They lose their temper easily and quickly. It only takes a small amount of stimulus to elicit an angry response. These children have short fuses.

There is a distinction between “often losing temper” and “having a tantrum”. Despite losing their temper momentarily, some reactive children may calm themselves competently.

In a study, it was found that being irritable was more common among children in the healthy population than in the clinical sample​3​.

Therefore, losing temper often by itself may not indicate psychopathology. The effect depends on what irritated children do, not how often they are irritable.

Intensity

Child psychologists have found that varying degrees of anger and sadness are two of the major emotions associated with tantrums​5​.

The levels of intensity are often correlated with the type of behavior.

Whining and crying are expressions of sadness. 

Screaming, kicking, and hitting characterize a high level of anger in children. Yelling and throwing signify an intermediate level of anger. Stamping alone is the lowest level.

Duration

How long tantrums last indicates the child’s ability to regulate their emotions. Those who have healthy emotional skills can gradually soothe themselves in tantrums​6​.

What To look for

Clinically significant or concerning conditions include the following​7​.

  • Tantrums that are frequent, appear out of the blue, or become more often with high levels of rage or aggression are generally considered clinically significant.
  • When a child tantrums until they are exhausted instead of gradually calming down, it is also considered severe. Such children are at greater risk of having serious clinical problems.
  • Temper tantrums that involve self-injurious behaviors such as hitting themselves, head banging, holder breathing, and biting themselves, regardless of frequency, duration, intensity, or context should be considered very serious.
  • Tantrums impair the daily functioning of the child or family. For instance, having daily tantrums, even if they are mild, is atypical​8​.

How To Deal With 6 Year Old Tantrums

Seek professional help from a mental health provider if you are concerned about your child’s tantrum-throwing, even if it doesn’t meet the extreme criteria. Only a trained professional can determine whether your child needs medical help.

Meanwhile, keep track of the context, frequency, intensity, duration, and type of behaviors displayed during tantrums to share with the psychologist when you meet.

Parents can also do the following to help their children develop emotions skills to prevent or regulate tantrums.

Priority

Prioritizing teaching emotional regulation skills is a critical step in dealing with 6 year old tantrums.

Since tantrums in childhood are associated with conduct disorders later in life, parents often worry about discipline when tantrums occur.

However, children have tantrums because they lack emotional control, regardless of whether they are disciplined or not​9​.

Harsh discipline will not help a child learn self-regulation, but is more likely to lead to psychological disorders.

Focus on that first. It doesn’t mean ignoring discipline. The first step is to teach them how to calm down. When they are calm, emphasize the importance of your rule and help them develop solutions for their needs. 

This process cannot be shortcutted if you want to teach your child healthy self-calming mechanisms.

Your Self-regulation and Co-regulation

Co-regulation occurs when parents interact with children and use their own regulated bodies to calm children’s nervous systems​10​.

For coregulation to work, parents must be control emotions themselves. 

Having the ability to self-regulate during chaos is crucial for teaching children to do the same.

Most babies and toddlers can calm down through co-regulation when they are hugged calmly. But some six-year-olds may not be receptive to be hugged.

You can try some of the following to see which one suits your child.

  • Don’t reason or negotiate with your child mid-tantrum
  • Hugging
  • Patting on the back
  • Being present and sitting next to them
  • Empathize
  • Acknowledge their intense feelings
  • Validate why they are upset
  • Ask them to name their negative feelings
  • Emotion coaching to help your child process emotions

Stick To Your Rule

Do not try to calm your child by caving in. 

Giving in may cause negative reinforcement. It can teach your child bad habit and lead to more future tantrums​11​.

Be firm if the tantrum was caused by a rule, a chore, or something they cannot have.

Be firm and kind.

Kindly and calmly restate why they cannot have what they want.

Problem-Solving

Uses these episodes as teachable moments.

Knowing how to solve problems creatively is a basic skill in life.

It helps them be more confident, calm, and resilient throughout life. Different aspects of their lives will improve, including schoolwork, careers, and relationships.

Discuss various ways they can improve the outcome or reframe the issue.

Sleep, hunger, or sensory meltdowns

There are times when children throw tantrums without apparent reasons. 

If that’s the case, check if they’re tired, hungry, or sensory overloaded.

Six-year-olds may throw tantrums without being able to determine what upsets them.

Positive Attention

Notice and praise their positive behaviors while not making a big deal about their negative behaviors.

Differential reinforcement can discourage bad behaviors while reinforcing good ones​12​.

Repair

In calmer moments, help your child repair harm if they have said or done things that hurt others. 

Explain how their actions affect others to teach your child empathy.

Encourage them to take responsibility and make amends, such as offering an apology or a hug, but do not force them.

Also See: How To Deal With 5 Year Old Tantrums

References

  1. 1.
    Stevenson J, Goodman R. Association between behaviour at age 3 years and adult criminality. Br J Psychiatry. Published online September 2001:197-202. doi:10.1192/bjp.179.3.197
  2. 2.
    Wiggins JL, Briggs-Gowan MJ, Estabrook R, et al. Identifying Clinically Significant Irritability in Early Childhood. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Published online March 2018:191-199.e2. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2017.12.008
  3. 3.
    Carlson GA, Danzig AP, Dougherty LR, Bufferd SJ, Klein DN. Loss of Temper and Irritability: The Relationship to Tantrums in a Community and Clinical Sample. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Published online March 2016:114-122. doi:10.1089/cap.2015.0072
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    Sukhodolsky DG, Smith SD, McCauley SA, Ibrahim K, Piasecka JB. Behavioral Interventions for Anger, Irritability, and Aggression in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Published online February 2016:58-64. doi:10.1089/cap.2015.0120
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    Giesbrecht GF, Miller MR, Müller U. The anger-distress model of temper tantrums: associations with emotional reactivity and emotional competence. Inf Child Develop. Published online 2010:n/a-n/a. doi:10.1002/icd.677
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    Green JA, Whitney PG, Potegal M. Screaming, yelling, whining, and crying: Categorical and intensity differences in vocal expressions of anger and sadness in children’s tantrums. Emotion. Published online 2011:1124-1133. doi:10.1037/a0024173
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    Belden AC, Thomson NR, Luby JL. Temper Tantrums in Healthy Versus Depressed and Disruptive Preschoolers: Defining Tantrum Behaviors Associated with Clinical Problems. The Journal of Pediatrics. Published online January 2008:117-122. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2007.06.030
  8. 8.
    Wakschlag LS, Choi SW, Carter AS, et al. Defining the developmental parameters of temper loss in early childhood: implications for developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Published online August 29, 2012:1099-1108. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2012.02595.x
  9. 9.
    Roy AK, Klein RG, Angelosante A, et al. Clinical Features of Young Children Referred for Impairing Temper Outbursts. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Published online November 2013:588-596. doi:10.1089/cap.2013.0005
  10. 10.
    Lunkenheimer E, Kemp CJ, Lucas-Thompson RG, Cole PM, Albrecht EC. Assessing Biobehavioural Self-Regulation and Coregulation in Early Childhood: The Parent-Child Challenge Task. Inf Child Dev. Published online April 5, 2016:e1965. doi:10.1002/icd.1965
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    Daniels E, Mandleco B, Luthy KE. Assessment, management, and prevention of childhood temper tantrums. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Published online July 2, 2012:569-573. doi:10.1111/j.1745-7599.2012.00755.x
  12. 12.
    Wilder DA, Chen L, Atwell J, Pritchard J, Weinstein P. Brief Functional Analysis and Treatment of Tantrums  associated with Transitions in Preschool Children. Deleon I, ed. J Appl Behav Anal. Published online 2006:103-107. doi:10.1901/jaba/2006.66-04

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is a bestselling author. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more

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