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How To Deal With Tantrums in 5 Year Olds and When To Worry

| Is it normal for a 5 year old to throw tantrums | When Should I Worry | How To Deal With Tantrums in 5 Year Olds | Why So Many Tantrums | Seek Professional Help |

Baby tantrums and toddler tantrums are common in the early years. They are a natural part of child development. 

A temper tantrum is one of the most common child behavior issues that prompt parents to seek pediatric help. Parents are often unsure whether tantrums are a sign of more serious problems, especially if they have been occurring for a long time.

5 year old girl screams and covers ears

Is it normal for a 5 year old to throw tantrums

It is normal for a 5 year old to throw tantrums from time to time, but breaking things or harming others during their tantrums is not normal. It is also not normal if tantrums occur too frequently or take the child a long time to calm down​1​

During early childhood, temper tantrums are a normal part of healthy children development as they learn to control their emotions and gain independence. 

Temper tantrums are common among children between 18 months and 4 years old. They tend to increase during the first 18 to 24 months, and then decrease between 42 and 48 months​2​.

Common tantrum behaviors exhibited by 18-month-olds to 5-year-olds include crying, screaming, and hitting.

Also See: Toddler Temper Tantrums

When Should I Worry About my 5 Year Old’s Tantrums – 5 Red Flags

The frequency, duration, trigger events, and severity of tempers are on a continuum. 

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules to determine how much is too much.

Belden, Thomson, and Luby (2009) believed that there are five risky “tantrum styles” parents should watch out for. 

5 year olds who have the following abnormal child behavior are at risk for a psychiatric disorder such as disruptive disorder or depression. However, do not include common triggers such as hunger, sleep problems, or illness​3​.

Violent Tantrums

During the last 10-20 tantrum episodes, your 5 year old showed consistent aggression directed at the caregiver or violently destructive behavior toward objects more than half of the time.

Self-injurious Behavior

Having intense feelings during tantrums is normal. 

However, it is not normal if it results in self-injurious behavior. Internally directed anger is a core characteristic of depression.

Self-harming during tantrums, regardless of tantrum frequency, duration, intensity, or context, has to be taken very seriously.

Frequent Tantrums

Having tantrums 10-20 times on separate days during a 30-day period, or on average 5 or more times a day on multiple days is at greater risk of having a serious clinical problem.

Long Duration

Generally, tantrums lasting more than 25 minutes are indicative of more serious issues.

Cannot Self-regulate

Caregiver assistance is required to calm down during tantrums as the child cannot self-regulate.

How To Deal With Tantrums in 5 Year Olds

Here are 7 steps for dealing with tantrums in a 5 year old.

  1. Ensure safety. If necessary, move them to a safe space. Hold or hug them to prevent them from hurting others or themselves.
  2. Check for biological needs such as hunger, anger, fatigue, or loneliness, and address those needs. For example, give them snacks or let them rest from their activities.
  3. Hug them or teach them to take deep breaths to help them regulate their emotions.
  4. Do not reason or argue with them.
  5. Do not punish them because that will lead to even more dysregulation.
  6. Review the situation after tantrums settle down. Teach your child about emotions and how to express their strong emotions with words. Developing these communication skills will reduce their need to act out their intense emotions.
  7. Find out if there are any special causes for frequent tantrums. Aside from not getting what they want, some 5 year olds have tantrums due to special circumstances that need to be addressed.

For more details on how to deal with preschooler tantrums at the moment, check out 7 Steps to Dealing With Extreme Tantrums.

Why Does My 5 Year Old Have So Many Tantrums

A lack of emotional control is the main reason why a 5-year-old has temper tantrums or anyone for that matter.

However, there are certain circumstances that require special attention.

  • Highly sensitive children may have sensory meltdowns when they have sensory overload​4​.
  • Children born with neurodiversity such as autism spectrum disorder​5​, Asperger syndrome​6​, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder​7​.
  • Those who struggle with a speech delay can become frustrated more easily​8​.
  • Sleep disorders lower a child’s frustration tolerance and may result in toddler bedtime tantrums​9​.
  • When parents are not well, e.g. marital discord, depression, or family stress, it can affect children’s emotions​10​.
  • Authoritarian parenting style​11​.
  • Mental disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorder, or depressive disorder​12​.

Seek Professional Help

After trying all the steps above for quite some time, and your 5-year-old continues to throw tantrums every day, something else could be going on and professional help is needed​13​.

Preschoolers who consistently exhibit the five red-flag behaviors are in need of a referral to a child psychologist for further evaluation.

It may be frustrating to hear this if you’re seeking self-help information. 

However, at this point, if you have tried everything, you need more than self-help.

References

  1. 1.
    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
  2. 2.
    POTEGAL M, DAVIDSON RJ. Temper Tantrums in Young Children: 1. Behavioral Composition. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Published online June 2003:140-147. doi:10.1097/00004703-200306000-00002
  3. 3.
    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
  4. 4.
    Hall L, Case-Smith J. The Effect of Sound-Based Intervention on Children With Sensory Processing Disorders and Visual–Motor Delays. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy. Published online March 1, 2007:209-215. doi:10.5014/ajot.61.2.209
  5. 5.
    Adler BA, Wink LK, Early M, et al. Drug-refractory aggression, self-injurious behavior, and severe tantrums in autism spectrum disorders: A chart review study. Autism. Published online February 26, 2014:102-106. doi:10.1177/1362361314524641
  6. 6.
    Quek LH, Sofronoff K, Sheffield J, White A, Kelly A. Co-Occurring Anger in Young People With Asperger’s Syndrome. J Clin Psychol. Published online July 16, 2012:1142-1148. doi:10.1002/jclp.21888
  7. 7.
    Goldin RL, Matson JL, Tureck K, Cervantes PE, Jang J. A comparison of tantrum behavior profiles in children with ASD, ADHD and comorbid ASD and ADHD. Research in Developmental Disabilities. Published online September 2013:2669-2675. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2013.04.022
  8. 8.
    Vollmer TR, Northup J, Ringdahl JE, Leblanc LA, Chauvin TM. Functional Analysis of Severe Tantrums Displayed by Children with Language Delays. Behav Modif. Published online January 1996:97-115. doi:10.1177/01454455960201005
  9. 9.
    Durand VN, Mindell JA. Behavioral Treatment of Multiple Childhood Sleep Disorders. Behav Modif. Published online January 1990:37-49. doi:10.1177/01454455900141003
  10. 10.
    Dadds MR, Schwartz S, Sanders MR. Marital discord and treatment outcome in behavioral treatment of child conduct disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Published online 1987:396-403. doi:10.1037/0022-006x.55.3.396
  11. 11.
    Zhou Q, Eisenberg N, Wang Y, Reiser M. Chinese Children’s Effortful Control and Dispositional Anger/Frustration: Relations to Parenting Styles and Children’s Social Functioning. Developmental Psychology. Published online May 2004:352-366. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.40.3.352
  12. 12.
    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
  13. 13.
    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

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).

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