A tantrum or temper tantrum is an emotional outbreak, usually associated with children or those in emotional distress, that is typically characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, defiance, angry ranting, a resistance to attempts at pacification and, in some cases, hitting. Physical control may be lost, the person may be unable to remain still, and even if the "goal" of the person is met he or she may not be calmed. A tantrum may be expressed in a tirade: a protracted, angry, or violent speech.
Tantrums are one of the most common forms of problematic behaviour in young children but tend to decrease in frequency and intensity as the child grows older. For the toddler, 'tantrums are normal...the force of the tantrum is a kind of measure of the strength of character the child can possess eventually, if [s]he's helped to harness that energy'.
While tantrums may be seen as a predictor of future anti-social behaviour, in another sense they are simply 'a manifestation of a loss of control and frustration that your child doesn't have the capacity to deal with—yet'; and so 'with patience and a consistent reaction to tantrums, they'll get fewer and farther between as your child grows'.
Although 'when a child is in a tantrum, it is all too apparent that it is wanting something, desperately wanting it...what the child is also needing is something very different ... for someone to provide a parental firmness that can help the child to cope with frustration that is age-appropriate'.
Selma Fraiberg warned against 'too much pressure or forceful methods of control from the outside' in child-rearing: 'if we turn every instance of pants changing, treasure hunting, napping, puddle wading and garbage distribution into a governmental crisis we can easily bring on fierce defiance, tantrums, and all the fireworks of revolt in the nursery'.
Some people who have neurological disorders such as the combination of autism or mental retardation could be more prone to tantrums than others, when it happens, they throw themselves on the floor, crying, screaming and kicking as a means of getting across that things are "not right", although anyone experiencing brain damage (temporary or permanent) can suffer from tantrums. Anyone may be prone to tantrums once in a while, regardless of gender or age.
Freud considered that the Wolf Man's development of temper tantrums—as he became 'discontented, irritable and violent, took offence on every possible occasion, and then flew into a rage and screamed like a savage'—was connected with his seduction by his sister.
He also considered that subsequently 'the patient's fits of rage and scenes of fury were put to a new purpose ... to force punishments and ... satisfy his sense of guilt'. Freud added that 'I do not know how often parents and educators, faced with inexplicable naughtiness on the part of a child, might not have occasion to bear this typical state of affairs in mind. A child who behaves in this inexplicable way is making a confession and trying to provoke punishment ... setting his sense of guilt at rest'.
Jealousy over the birth of a sibling, and resulting aggression, may also provoke tantrums: 'the efforts to control himself produced temper tantrums "over nothing" dozens of times a day ... stormy and negativistic'.
Heinz Kohut contended that 'the infant's core is likely to contain a self-centred, grandiose-exhibitionist part', and that 'tantrums at being frustrated thus represent narcissistic rages' at the blow to the inflated self-image. With 'a child confronted with some refusal ... regardless of its justifications, the refusal automatically provokes fury, since it offends his sense of omnipotence'.
In later life
In the celebrity culture of the 21st century, the "Tantrumical" may come to full flower in 'the celebrity tantrum. Many celebrity icons, regardless of their chronological age, are renowned for appearing incredibly immature and throwing temper tantrums whenever they don't get their own way'.
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- Freud, p. 257–8
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- Cooper Lawrence, The Cult of Celebrity (2009) p. 72