My 3-year-old son has frequent temper tantrums. How can I tell if the tantrums are normal for a child his age — or if they're a sign of something more serious?

Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

Tempter tantrums are a normal part of growing up. Often, temper tantrums — which may include crying, screaming, or stomping up and down — are simply the expression of a child's frustration. As self-control improves, temper tantrums typically become less common. Most children outgrow tantrums by age 4.

Sometimes, however, temper tantrums can indicate an underlying issue, such as:

  • Developmental delay
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Rarely, temper tantrums may indicate a more serious condition, such as Asperger's syndrome.

To determine whether your son's temper tantrums are cause for concern or simply an age-appropriate response to frustration, ask yourself these questions:

  • How often and in what settings do the temper tantrums occur?
  • Is your son's speech development on track?
  • Are your son's motor abilities and curiosity normal for his age?
  • Are you able to manage the tantrums?
  • Has your son ever injured himself or others during a tantrum?
If you're concerned about a possible underlying condition or if your son's tantrums seem especially severe, consult your son's doctor. He or she may offer assurance that your son's behavior is normal — or explore the possibility of any underlying conditions that may be contributing to the tantrums. Apr. 01, 2009 See more Expert Answers