Is it normal for a 4-year-old to have tantrums?
Having temper tantrums is a normal part of child development. Although many little kids stop having toddler tantrums by the time they turn four, It is still normal for some 4-year-olds to have them.
Here are some tantrum statistics.
1. The majority of temper tantrums occur in children between 18 months and 4 years of age.
- 87% at 18 to 24 months old
- 91% at 30 to 36 months old
- 59% at 42 to 48 months old
2. Age-appropriate tantrums are most common among 3-year-olds and usually decline as they age1.
3. Boys tend to throw tantrums more often than girls2.
4. In seemingly healthy children, typical tantrum behaviors include crying, screaming, and hitting. Yet healthy kids can also show less common behaviors such as holding their breath, head-banging, and extreme emotional dysregulation.
Why does my 4 year old keep having tantrums every day
Frequent tantrums in a 4-year-old indicate that the child has not learned to regulate their big emotions and cope with frustration. These children have very low frustration tolerance.
Normally, as they grow older, toddlers gain language skills that enable them to talk about their strong feelings rather than throwing fits.
By age 4, frequent temper tantrums should stop or begin to decline. But if they increase in frequency, duration, and intensity, there may be other underlying causes that lead to extreme behaviors.
Here are some potential causes of extreme behaviors in a 4-year-old child’s tantrums.
Sensory integration processing
Highly sensitive children or those with sensory processing challenges have a lower tolerance for stress. They generally have a harder time handling disappointment, are less able to regulate themselves, and throw more extreme screaming tantrums3.
Children who experience speech delay are prone to constant tantrums because it is more difficult to have their needs met4.
Not having enough sleep could be a cause for excessive and long tantrums.
Researchers have found that shorter nighttime sleep duration is associated with higher instances of emotional meltdowns and externalizing behavior in 4-year-olds5.
Sleep disturbances can be caused by various reasons – late bedtime, too much screen time, sleep apnea, etc.
Hunger, excessive fatigue, physical illness, and poor child health are associated with severe temper tantrums.
A lack of role models for emotional skills
Studies indicate that parents of children who have behavioral problems often lack self-regulation skills and throw temper tantrums themselves2.
Their children are not only deprived of good role models, but these parents are also more reactive escalating matters faster and more intensely6.
The well-being of parents and family climate can have an impact on children’s ability to regulate. More intense tantrums in children are associated with maternal depression and irritability, marital discord, and family stress7.
52% of children exhibiting severe tantrums had other behavioral or emotional problems such as mood disorders (depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, mania8) or disruptive disorders (oppositional defiant disorder).
Depressed children are more aggressive towards objects during tantrums, and they are more likely to engage in self-harming behavior. Disruptive kids show more aggression and have a harder time recovering from tantrums9.
Aggressive tantrums and hitting are common problems in children with an autism spectrum disorder10.
Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who also have other disorders such as mania or ODD tend to have violent tantrums, too11.
How to deal with extreme tantrums when they happen
Managing extreme tantrums is similar to managing toddler temper tantrums when they happen.
The following is a summary of the 7 steps for dealing with disruptive tantrums at the moment (click here for the detailed guide).
- The first step is to address the safety issue. Move the child to a safe place. If it is a public tantrum, you may have to leave the venue. It’s a good idea to let your acquaintance know ahead of time and have a backup plan in case you have to leave early.
- Check to see if hunger, anger, loneliness, or fatigue are the causes.
- You can hold or hug them to restore their emotional balance or prevent them from hurting themselves or others.
- Don’t try to reason and don’t punish.
- Don’t give in to their demands while staying calm and positive.
- Focus on helping them learn to self-regulate. Teach them to take deep breaths.
- After they have calmed down, teach them how to express strong emotions and needs in appropriate ways.
How to address the underlying issues
Talk to your pediatrician
Talk to the pediatrician about your child’s uncontrollable tantrums. Ask them to screen for issues such as sensory processing sensitivity, language delay, sleep apnea, major depression, ADHD, anxiety, autism, etc.
Be a warm, responsive parent
Warm, responsive parenting is linked to more compliance and fewer tantrums in children12. Children with responsive parents tend to be securely attached and show more positive behavior13.
Practice autonomy-supportive parenting
Giving children some autonomy helps cut down on severe tantrums. Parents must balance their need for obedience with their children’s need for a sense of control. When it comes to something that does not affect health or safety, children should be able to make their own decisions.
Work on your own self-regulation
Model the behavior your want to see in your children. We cannot expect our kids to control their emotions if we cannot control ours.
Self-care and taking deep breaths are simple yet effective ways to regulate emotions. Seek professional help if you are suffering from depression or other health issues.
When you should worry about extreme tantrums in your four-year-old
Up to 30% of healthy preschoolers show emotional outbursts from time to time. Hence, occasional tantrums that are intense are not a cause for concern.
However, psychologists have identified five ‘red-flag’ tantrum behaviors that parents can watch for9.
5 high-risk tantrum styles that warrant a mental health evaluation.
- Consistent display of aggressive behavior directed at caregivers and/or objects (i.e. more than half of the last 10–20 tantrum episodes.)
- Intentionally engage in self-injurious behavior during tantrums.
- Have 10–20 tantrum episodes at home during the past month, or on average more than 5 tantrums a day for multiple days.
- Tantrum duration lasts longer than 25 minutes on average.
- In general, they cannot calm themselves during tantrums without help from caregivers.
Consult your child’s physician or clinical psychologist if you notice any of these issues or if you are concerned about your child’s behavior in general.
If you have a 3 year old or 5 year old, and their tantrums are getting worse, there is one simple thing you can do to help.
Also See: PCIT Parent-Child Interaction Therapy: What Is It & Does It Work
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- 2.Bhatia MS, Dhar NK, Singhal PK, Nigam VR, Malik SC, Mullick DN. Prevalence and Etiology. Clin Pediatr (Phila). Published online June 1990:311-315. doi:10.1177/000992289002900603
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