Everyone in the family was having a good time during game night.
However, the 5-year-old picked a card that caused him to land on a slide and go back many spaces. This set off the boy and he threw the game pieces on the floor and began screaming.
The screaming continued for the next 20 minutes as the rest of the children went to their rooms and the parents tried to figure out how to calm their son down.
It is common for younger children to have occasional temper tantrums or outbursts when situations do not go the way they expect. Usually this occurs when children are struggling with feelings like anger or frustration where they do not have the skills to manage or calm themselves down.
There are some children where temper tantrums occur much more frequently than would be expected. These children often have underlying psychological issues that are influencing the outbursts. By identifying the issue that is driving these behaviors, parents can be better equipped to intervene and ultimately reduce the tantrums and outbursts.
Some children who exhibit a high frequency of tantrums have ADHD. Even though inattention is a primary symptom of ADHD, other symptoms increase the likelihood of an outburst.
Children with ADHD may ignore instructions and impulsively lash out when they are asked to do things they do not want to do. The odds of an outburst increase when these children are asked to stop doing something they enjoy.
For example, a child having to stop playing a video game in order to go to bed.
Other children may have frequent outbursts where anxiety is driving the behavior.
Anxiety is often thought of as someone who is shy or timid. However, children with anxiety can act out if they are put into situations that trigger their anxiety. The tantrum can help them escape the situation or influence others to change their behavior more in line with the child's expectations.
Children with sensory processing issues will scream or have meltdowns when they struggle to process information that overwhelms their senses. This can occur when children's faces get wet, a place is too bright or noisy, or the food they are eating does not feel right in their mouths.
As a result, children with sensory processing issues can be rigid about their routines and resist changes that seem trivial to others.
Similar issues can be at play with children who have autism. Many times, children with autism can have dramatic meltdowns when confronted with unexpected changes. They tend to be rigid about their routines and need them to maintain their emotional comfort.
On top of that, many children with autism may lack the language and communications skills to express what they need.
As is evident from the various disorders that were highlighted, there can be many causes behind frequent temper tantrums and outbursts.
The type of disorder a child is exhibiting will dictate how parents can successfully address the issue. The first step is to recognize what is driving the behavior. Sometimes parents can be too close to the situation to be able to identify the underlying cause. In those situations, it can be helpful to have a mental health professional assist.
Dan Florell, Ph.D., is a professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi (www.mindpsi.net). Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates (www.madisonpeds.com).