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 life1.
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 own2.
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 evacuation3.
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 problem4.
When To Worry
Here are some of the factors to consider when assessing the seriousness of your child’s tantrum issues.
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 sample3.
Therefore, losing temper often by itself may not indicate psychopathology. The effect depends on what irritated children do, not how often they are irritable.
Child psychologists have found that varying degrees of anger and sadness are two of the major emotions associated with tantrums5.
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.
How long tantrums last indicates the child’s ability to regulate their emotions. Those who have healthy emotional skills can gradually soothe themselves in tantrums6.
What To look for
Clinically significant or concerning conditions include the following7.
- 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 atypical8.
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.
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 not9.
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 systems10.
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
- Patting on the back
- Being present and sitting next to them
- 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 tantrums11.
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.
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.
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 ones12.
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
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