Temper tantrums are a normal, healthy part of childhood development, and understanding what brings them on can make them easier to tame. But don't wait until the clouds roll in to test how well you can minimize a meltdown. Take this temper tantrum quiz to prepare for the inevitable outburst.
Although it might seem to parents and other adults like temper tantrums last an eternity, the average outburst actually lasts only 3 minutes.
Parents don't refer to the second year of children's lives as the "terrible twos" for nothing. Temper tantrums ramp up during that year and eventually taper off around age 4.
A study from the University of Minnesota calculated that 91 percent of 2-year-old children spiral into temper tantrums on a weekly basis.
Beware the toddler with flushed skin, for it might mean his or her little top is about to blow. Regulated by the autonomic nervous system, flushed skin is the most common temper tantrum symptom.
Produced in the pituitary gland, cortisol secretes into the bloodstream when temper tantrums prime a toddler's "fight or flight" survival system.
Severe temper tantrums may be a sign of latent bipolar disorder and psychopathology, but some clinicians worry that the negative behavior has been overly pathologized in recent years, as demonstrated by a spike in pediatrics mental health diagnoses. For instance, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, pediadric bipolar disorder diagnoses increased 40-fold from 1995 to 2003.
The unpleasant characteristics of temper tantrums -- kicking, screaming, crying -- can be almost painful for parents to endure, which is probably why about 80 percent tend to immediately rush in and attempt to stop the meltdowns from going any further.
Although it might take enormous willpower, childcare experts advise adults to ignore temper tantrums as they're happening. Rushing to children's side -- even if it's to punish the child -- will only positively reinforce the behavior.
Regular temper tantrums aren't all that uncommon for 2-year-olds, with 20 percent experiencing a moody meltdown every day.
According to University of Minnesota child neurologist Michael Potegal, temper tantrums are an emotional combination of initial anger and frustration overlapped with sadness.
The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain behind the forehead that helps focus attention, regulates social behavior, moderates intense emotions and controls impulses. That said, it's also the last brain region to fully mature, a process which begins in earnest around 4 years of age. Since a 2-year-old's prefrontal cortex isn't mature, temper tantrums can -- and will -- happen anytime and anywhere.
One way to effectively distract a toddler from spiraling into a tantrum is to offer him or her choices to navigate around unpleasant tasks. If, for instance, they don't like taking a bath, ask them whether they'd like to hop in the tub before or after dinner.
If a tantrum skips over the vocal phase of screaming and whining and immediately starts with stomping around or defiantly curling up on the floor, it may be a sign of a short-lived fit.
It's highly uncommon, but a 6-year-old in Georgia was arrested for an extreme temper tantrum she had at school in April 2012. After allegedly attempting to destroy school property and injuring the principal in the process, the school called the police, who handcuffed the kindergartener and carted her off to the station.
In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association is slated to publish the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which will include disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. The new designation would essentially classify temper tantrums in children older than 6 years old as a mental illness that could precede adult-onset bipolar disorder or pathological antisocial behavior later in life.
Temper tantrums come with a host of unpleasant hallmarks, such as throwing, hitting and kicking things. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that if parents notice children attempting to hold their breath to the point of fainting, it might be a red flag that professional help is needed to help managing their moodiness.
In 1931, University of Minnesota psychologist Florence Goodenough published "Anger in Young Children," the first empirically detailed examination of temper tantrums.
The average temper tantrum lasts anywhere from 1.5 to 5 minutes. Consistent temper tantrums that carry on for 15 minutes or more are considered extreme.
Sometimes, what looks like extreme teen agnst is actually a psychological condition called oppositional defiant disorder, which affects between 1 and 16 percent of school-age children.
By age 18, when temper tantrums would certainly begin having a perilous impact on adult job and relationship prospects, the prefrontal cortex reaches maturity.