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
- Hoecker JL (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 9, 2009.
- Sim LA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 13, 2009.
- Prazar GE. Temper tantrums and breath-holding spells. In: McInerny TK, et al. American Academy of Pediatrics Textbook of Pediatric Care. Elk Grove Village, Ill.: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2009:1316.