Tantrums at All Ages: What is normal?

Kid banging their fist against a wall

“I want a candy bar!” 

Your 2-year-old daughter stands screaming in the middle of the grocery store checkout line as you look on in shock. With tears flowing, fists clenched, and her piercing wail echoing throughout the entire store, she is the absolute center of attention. 

Your 9-year-old son sits in the backseat of your minivan, his arms folded across his chest in pure defiance. He had wanted to go to the mall with his friends by himself, but you insisted on going as a chaperone. 

“I promise, I will keep my distance,” you assure him. “You’re simply too young to go alone.”

However, your assurance does little to change his attitude. After spending the entire drive yelling at you for being so unfair, he’s now giving you the silent treatment. 

Your 16-year-old storms out of the house, slamming the door behind her as she makes her exit. “You’re being completely unfair!” she yells over her shoulder. 

All you had asked her to do was to fill up the car with gas after she finished using it. Was that so unreasonable?

***

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

You made it through the Terrible Twos, survived the Threenage years, and held on tight through all of the turmoil your Fournado brought about. Then, just when you thought the worst was behind you, you realized the cold, hard truth.

Tantrums happen.

Anytime. Anywhere. And at any age.

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As a parenting educator, I’ve seen this time and time again. Exhausted parents wondering when their children will finally stop throwing tantrums. And for good reason! No one dislikes a tantrum more than a parent.

While there are plenty of tactics and tools parents can use to prevent temper tantrums from happening, there is no hard and clear rule that says tantrums are limited to a certain age group. 

In fact, even adults give in to the occasional tantrum every now and then.

While tantrums may happen at every age, they begin to look different as children grow. The crocodile tears and high pitched screams suddenly turn into eye rolls and slammed doors. The possibilities are endless and can be endlessly confusing for a stressed-out parent. 

So whether you have a toddler, a preschooler, a tween, or a teen, there is no better time to take a deeper look at tantrums through the ages than right now. Because when you have a better understanding of the role tantrums play at different ages, you’ll start to learn how to handle each one specifically; making your life—and your child’s—much less chaotic.

Toddler Tantrums (Ages 12 months to 4)

You are six months into being a parent of two and, so far, you are absolutely loving it!

Watching your 3-year-old become a big sister was nothing short of a dream come true, and now you feel as though you’re finally starting to fall into a comfortable groove as a family. Still, the honeymoon phase of having a new baby has come to an end as you’ve noticed a bit of jealousy coming from your oldest. 

It’s not that she doesn’t love her sister—in fact, she adores her—but it’s clear the baby’s newness is starting to wear off. You knew this would happen eventually, it’s only natural. Yet, as you watch your daughter kicking and screaming on the nursery floor, you feel unprepared to handle the situation. 

What happened?

One minute she was perfectly fine, the next a wreck. After noticing her baby sister play with a noisy toy piano—a toy that used to be hers, no less—she lost her temper and a tantrum quickly ensued.

“But that’s my toy!” she wails.

“Honey, you’re too big for that toy. It’s for babies.” 

You try to reason with her, but that only makes the tantrum worse

Yes, toddler tantrums can thrust any parent into a panic and have the ability to turn a perfectly good day into a total disaster. Still, you can’t say you weren’t warned… 

It seems everyone from your great aunt Mildred to the random cashier at the grocery store have been uttering warnings since the moment you announced a baby was on the way. 

You understand that tantrums are simply a part of the territory—especially during those early years—and you’ve known they were coming. The crying, the whining, the kicking, the screaming. From grocery store meltdowns to strategic manipulation, toddler tantrums come in many shapes and sizes.

Fortunately, you are not alone in your desire to end toddler tantrums. At Positive Parenting Solutions, we offer plenty of resources to help you navigate the early years. With some support and a little patience (okay, maybe a lot), you will be taming tantrums from big to small in no time.

School-Aged Tantrums (Ages 5 to 12)

You swore it would never happen but it did. They went and changed math.

You thought 2 + 2 = 4, but it looks so different now. It’s longer and so much more complicated. This is not the math you remember doing in elementary school. 

But times have changed. Now, you are forced to sit through at least an hour of torment each evening at the kitchen table, as you try and help your 8-year-old son figure it out as well.

Unfortunately, every night has become an uphill battle that usually ends in a fight between the two of you. He hates math and you’re not the biggest fan of it either.

Frustrated, you press him to work through each problem, urging him to try and understand—for you to understand. Eventually, he reaches his breaking point.

The math book slams shut, his pencil goes flying, and tears start to streak his cheeks. 

“I can’t do this!” he yells as he marches off to his bedroom. With the slam of his door, you hang your head in defeat. 

Something has to change.

It may look a little different than a few years ago, but this is a prime example of your son having, you guessed it—a temper tantrum! 

For most families, temper tantrums have tapered off dramatically by the time their child enters school. With age comes maturity and a stronger handle on mastering their big emotions.

Still, after-school meltdowns may still happen. Sometimes often. And why wouldn’t they? School is stressful after all!

Of course, no kid wants to have a meltdown at school for all of his classmates and teachers to witness. So he holds back, waiting for the moment he walks through the front door into his own home. His safe space. 

To you.

Oh friends, I know exactly how you feel. Especially when you hear great things about your child’s behavior all day, only to experience nothing but attitude, sass, and backtalk the moment he arrives home. Talk about frustrating!

It’s easy to see these tantrums as nothing more than your child exhibiting disrespectful, bratty behavior. But be careful not to judge too quickly! 

Tantrums happen for a reason. Although they may be more emotionally stable now than when they were toddlers, kids at this age are still working to get a handle on their big emotions—a task that takes years to master.

I encourage you to take a step back, show some grace, and approach these tantrums just as you did when he was younger. Help him to work through his emotions when he starts to melt down. Ignore any attempts at manipulation.

Above all else, be calm when he cannot. Over time, you will begin to see these new tantrums start to diminish.

And should you find yourself still scratching your head, lost in confusion? No need to worry! Here at Positive Parenting Solutions we offer a free webinar to help you understand not only why your kids misbehave, but how to help them. 

Teenage Tantrums

“This is completely unfair!” your daughter screams. 

Slam! Her bedroom door closes with such force the sound alone is enough to rattle your bones, not to mention your last nerve.

She had asked to go to a party Friday night—a party you know will have no adult supervision. As much as you appreciate her coming to you first, you had to say no.

You find yourself torn. 

She’s sixteen and has shown an impressive level of maturity in the past few months. Naturally, you want to cast a wider net, giving her a little room to grow. Then again, she’s only sixteen, and her safety is as important to you now as the day you brought her home from the hospital.

So you patiently wait outside her bedroom door, allowing her (and yourself) a bit of time to cool off. Then you give the door a soft knock, hoping she will let you in.

Is there anything quite like a good old-fashioned teenage temper tantrum?

The truth of the matter is, tantrums look much different now than they did in those early years. Gone are the days of big crocodile tears, howling screams, and even physical aggression (thankfully!). But you’re certainly not out of the woods just yet.

Because this is where the attitude comes in. I’m talking about the eye rolls, the silent treatments, and, of course, the dreaded door slams.

The teenage years, in particular, can be a very turbulent time. With one foot planted firmly in childhood while the other steps anxiously into adulthood, your teen is stuck. Stuck between relying on you for everything and wanting to be independent. Stuck navigating the emotions of an adult with only the experience of a child. 

When you think about it that way, tantrums in the teenage years make a lot of sense.

When she was a toddler and had a tantrum, maybe you gave her a big hug and helped her work through her emotions. Or maybe you ignored it altogether. Now, as a teen, you find yourself needing to adjust your strategy a bit.

Now you want to focus on building trust. It may seem impossible, but having a trusting relationship with your teen will work wonders in getting them to open up and come to you when life’s problems seem to be piling up.

Eat dinner together, go on family walks, teach them how to drive. Make sure the time you have together—however little it may be these days—is filled with purpose. Talk and open up the lines of communication. You’d be surprised how easy it actually is once your teen feels like she can trust you with what she has to say.

And when tantrums do happen? Follow your gut!

Ignore the outburst when it feels manipulative. Give them a hug and help them work it out when it’s the result of an emotionally trying time. This is the age when most parents report feeling furthest from the child, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Despite their pushes, this is the time to help your near-adult child navigate some particularly muddy waters. After all, a teenage temper tantrum is not so different from your own occasional meltdown. 

There are just a few added hormones thrown in.

Final Thoughts

Toddler, tweens, and teens—it makes no difference! Tantrums happen at any time, any place, and any age. And no matter who you are or how long you’ve been a parent, dealing with your child’s temper tantrum is never an easy thing to do. 

However, we are here to help! Having an understanding of how tantrums differ (and sometimes are the same) at different ages is important in learning how to handle them. 

The Positive Parenting Solutions course is filled with useful tools and strategies to help you deal with temper tantrums of every kind, in every place, with every age.

Not sure if we’re right for you? You can always test us out first!

I encourage you to JOIN ME FOR A FREE ONLINE CLASS where I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen—no nagging, yelling, or reminding required.

I assure you, no matter how old your kids are, it is never too early or too late to learn how to tame the dreaded temper tantrum. We promise to give you the right tools and unending support.

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About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.