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"Christina Rossetti in a Tantrum" by her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A tantrum, temper tantrum, lash out, meltdown, fit, or hissy fit is an emotional outburst,[1][2][3] usually associated with those in emotional distress. It is typically characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, violence,[4] defiance,[5] angry ranting, a resistance to attempts at pacification, and, in some cases, hitting and other physically violent behavior. Physical control may be lost; the person may be unable to remain still; and even if the "goal" of the person is met, they may not be calmed. Throwing a temper tantrum can lead to a child getting detention or being suspended from school for older school age children, and can result in a timeout or grounding, complete with room or corner time, at home.[6][7][8][9][10][11] A tantrum may be expressed in a tirade: a protracted, angry speech.[6][7][12]

In early childhood[edit]

Tantrums are one of the most common forms of problematic behavior in young children but tend to decrease in frequency and intensity as the child gets older.[13] For a toddler, tantrums can be considered as normal, and even as gauges of developing strength of character.[14][15][16]

Child having a tantrum

While tantrums are sometimes seen as a predictor of future anti-social behavior,[17] in another sense they are simply an age-appropriate sign of excessive frustration,[18] and will diminish over time given a calm and consistent handling.[19][20][21] Parental containment where a child cannot contain themself—rather than what the child is ostensibly demanding—may be what is really required.[22]

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".[23]

Intellectual and developmental disorders[edit]

Some people who have developmental disorders such as autism, Asperger syndrome, ADHD, and intellectual disability[24] or even a developmental disability, could be more vulnerable to tantrums than others, although anyone experiencing brain damage (temporary or permanent) can suffer from tantrums.[25] Anyone may be prone to tantrums once in a while, regardless of gender or age.[26][27] However, a meltdown due to sensory overload (which even neurotypical children can experience) is not the same as a temper tantrum.[28]


A Welsh Government video explaining the difference between tantrums and meltdowns.

Freud considered that the Wolf Man's development of temper tantrums was connected with his seduction by his sister: he became "discontented, irritable and violent, took offence on every possible occasion, and then flew into a rage and screamed like a savage".[29] Freud linked the tantrums to an unconscious need for punishment driven by feelings of guilt[30]—something which he thought could be generalised to many other cases of childhood tantrums.[31][32]

Heinz Kohut contended that tantrums were rages of anger,[33] caused by the thwarting of the infant's grandiose-exhibitionist core. The blow to the inflated self-image, when a child's wishes are (however justifiably) refused, creates fury because it strikes at the feeling of omnipotence.[34]

Jealousy over the birth of a sibling, and resulting aggression[35], may also provoke negativistic tantrums, as the effort at controlling the feelings overloads the child's system of self-regulation.[36][37]

In later life[edit]

Writer William Makepeace Thackeray claimed that in later life "you may tell a tantrum as far as you can see one, by the distressed and dissatisfied expression of its countenance—'Tantrumical', if we may term it so".[38]

Heinz Kohut contended that "the baby’s core is likely to contain a self-centered, grandiose-exhibitionist part", and that "tantrums at being frustrated thus represent narcissistic rages"[33] 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".[34]

The willingness of the celebrity to throw tantrums whenever thwarted to the least degree[39] is a kind of acquired situational narcissism[40] or tantrumical behavior.

If older people show tantrums, they might often be signs of immaturity or a mental or developmental disability; and often autistic or ADHD meltdowns are incorrectly labelled tantrums. It can also occur in neurotypical people under extreme stress.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Album, Cabinet (1830). "The Cabinet Album A Collection of Original and Selected Literature". The. Hurst, Chance and Company: 92.
  2. ^ Foote, Samuel (1765). "The Dramatic Works Volume 1". The Dramatic Works. 1. P. Vaillant: 40–41.
  3. ^ Payn, James (1869). Married Beneath Him. A novel. By the author of "Lost Sir Massingberd" James Payn. The British Library. p. 369.
  4. ^ O'Hara, Kane (1770). "Midas An English Burletta. As it is Performed at the Theatre-Royal, in Covent-Garden". Midas an English Burletta. As It is Performed at the Theatre-Royal, in Covent-Garden: 20.
  5. ^ GOMBERT, A. J. (1825). "The French Drama ... with Notes Critical and Explanatory, by A. G. Volume 2 of The French Drama ... with Notes Critical and Explanatory, by A. G". The French Drama... 2. The British Library: 47.
  6. ^ a b Penelope Leach. "What is a tantrum?". BabyCentre. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
  7. ^ a b "Temper Tantrums". KidsHealth. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
  8. ^ Karisa Ding (July 26, 2017). "Tantrums". BabyCenter. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
  9. ^ Jan Hunt. "When a Child Has a Tantrum". The Natural Child Project. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
  10. ^ Mullen, J.K. (1983). "Understanding and managing the temper tantrum". Child Care Quarterly. 12 (1): 59–70. doi:10.1007/BF01258080. S2CID 144110786.
  11. ^ Geelerd, E.R. (1945). "Observations on temper tantrums in children". American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 15 (2): 238–246. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.1945.tb04937.x.
  12. ^ Daniels, Elizabeth; Mandleco, Barbara; Luthy, Karlen E. (2012). "Assessment, management, and prevention of childhood temper tantrums". Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. 24 (10): 569–573. doi:10.1111/j.1745-7599.2012.00755.x. PMID 23006014.
  13. ^ Banham Bridges, Katharine M. (1932). "Emotional Development in Early Infancy". Child Development. 3 (4): 324–341. doi:10.2307/1125359. JSTOR 1125359.
  14. ^ Robin Skynner; John Cleese (1993). Families and how to survive them. p. 177.
  15. ^ Isaacs, S. (1940). "Temper tantrums in early childhood in their relation to internal objects". The International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 21: 280–293.
  16. ^ Solter, A. (1992). "Understanding Tears and Tantrums". Young Children. 47 (4): 64–68. JSTOR 42725308.
  17. ^ Potegal, Michael; Davidson, Richard J. (June 2003). "Temper Tantrums in Young Children". Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 24 (3): 140–147. doi:10.1097/00004703-200306000-00002. PMID 12806225. S2CID 23682833.
  18. ^ Green, J.A.; Whitney, P.G.; Potegal, M. (2011). "Screaming, yelling, whining, and crying: Categorical and intensity differences in vocal expressions of anger and sadness in children's tantrums". Emotion. 11 (5): 1124–1133. doi:10.1037/a0024173. PMC 3192404. PMID 21707157.
  19. ^ Roy Benaroch (2008). Solving Health and Behavioural Problems from Birth Through Preschool. p. 157.
  20. ^ Kopp, C.B. (1989). "Regulation of distress and negative emotions: A developmental view". Developmental Psychology. 25 (3): 343–354. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.25.3.343.
  21. ^ Levine, Linda (1995). "Young Children's Understanding of the Causes of Anger and Sadness". Child Development. 66 (3): 967–709. doi:10.2307/1131944. JSTOR 1131944. PMID 7789196.
  22. ^ Patrick Casement (1990). Further Learning from the Patient. pp. 113–4.
  23. ^ Selma H. Fraiberg (1987). The Magic Years. p. 65.
  24. ^ Luiselli, J.; Murbach, L. (2002). "Providing Instruction from Novel Staff as an Antecedent Intervention for Child Tantrum Behavior in a Public School Classroom". Education and Treatment of Children. 25 (3): 356–365. JSTOR 42899711.
  25. ^ Lancioni, G. E.; Smeets, P. M.; Ceccarani, P. S.; Capodaglio, L.; Campanari, G. (1984). "Effects of gross motor activities on the severe self-injurious tantrums of multihandicapped individuals". Applied Research in Mental Retardation. 5 (4): 471–482. doi:10.1016/S0270-3092(84)80039-9. PMID 6240965.
  26. ^ Sandra Ketcham. "Temper Tantrums and Autism". LoveToKnow. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  27. ^ Osterman, Karin; Bjorkqvist, Kaj (April 1, 2010). "A Cross-Sectional Study of Onset, Cessation, Frequency, and Duration of Children's Temper Tantrums in a Nonclinical Sample". Psychological Reports. 106 (2): 448–454. doi:10.2466/pr0.106.2.448-454. PMID 20524545. S2CID 43291154.
  28. ^ Bennie, Maureen (2 February 2016). "Tantrum vs Autistic Meltdown: What Is The Difference?". Autism Awareness. Autism Awareness Centre Inc. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  29. ^ Sigmund Freud. Case Histories II (PFL 9). p. 242.
  30. ^ Sigmund Freud. Case Histories II (PFL 9). p. 257.
  31. ^ Sigmund Freud. Case Histories II (PFL 9). pp. 242 & 257–8.
  32. ^ M., R.J, Potegal, Davidson (1997). "Young children's post tantrum affiliation with their parents". Aggressive Behavior. 23 (5): 329–341. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1098-2337(1997)23:5<329::AID-AB3>3.0.CO;2-D.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  33. ^ a b H. Goldenberg; I. Goldenberg (2007). Family Therapy. p. 172.
  34. ^ a b Edmund Bergler in J. Halliday/P. Fuller eds., The Psychology of Gambling (London 1974) p. 182
  35. ^ J., H.A., Kagan, Moss (1962). "The stability of behavior: II. Aggression. In J. Kagan & H. A. Moss, Birth to maturity: A study in psychological development". Birth to maturity: A study in psychological development. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: 85–119.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  36. ^ Selma H. Fraiberg (1987). The Magic Years. p. 152.
  37. ^ Dennis, Tracy A. (2006). "Emotional self-regulation in preschoolers: The interplay approach reactivity, and control capacities". Developmental Psychology. 42 (1): 84–97. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.42.1.84. PMID 16420120. S2CID 14692506.
  38. ^ William Makepeace Thackeray (1848). The Irish Sketch Book. J. Winchester. p. 138.
  39. ^ Cooper Lawrence, The Cult of Celebrity (2009) p. 72
  40. ^ Simon Crompton, All About Me (London 2007) p. 176
  41. ^ "North Jersey". North Jersey. Retrieved 25 March 2018.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of tantrum at Wiktionary