For the most part, tantrums are a totally normal part of healthy toddler development, but occasionally they can be a red flag of something deeper going on (a behavioral or mood disorder, for example). Talk to your pediatrician if your toddler has tantrums that are very intense and aggressive, frequent (occurring nearly every day and/or multiple times a day) and are seemingly out-of-the-blue—especially if your child is 5 or older. 

To figure out whether you’re dealing with typical tantrums or something that may require a little extra help, there are some questions you could ask yourself…

How old is your toddler?

Tantrums tend to peak between 18 and 24 months and mostly fade away once your tyke approaches their 5th birthday. That means a 2- or 3-year-old’s frequent or intense tantrums aren’t as much cause for concern as tantrums for a school-aged child.

How intense are the tantrums?

All tantrums probably feel intense to a parent. But tantrums that regularly involve aggressive behavior—hitting, kicking, or biting others or hurting themselves—in addition to run-of-the-mill wailing and crying could be a sign something is amiss.

How long do tantrums last?

One study found that a typical tantrum lasts about 11 minutes. Make note of tantrums that stretch 25 minutes or longer.

How frequent are the tantrums?

How often does your toddler have tantrums? Frequent tantrums—your tot is seriously melting down multiple times a day—may indicate an issue.

Do the tantrums have a clear trigger?

Many toddler tantrums don’t make sense to us parents (like why lunch being served on a blue plate instead of a green one makes them dissolve into a puddle of tears). But generally, tantrums without a clear cause are more concerning than those sparked by a trigger.

Who does your toddler have tantrums around?

Kids tend to keep it together around strangers and loose acquaintances…they save the monster meltdowns for the caregivers closest to them—think Mom, Dad, or maybe even a nanny. (It’s a twisted compliment—when our kids let themselves fall apart around us, it means they trust us and feel safe with us.)

If your child is indiscriminately throwing HUGE fits around people they don’t see too often (such as a school aide or visiting grandparents, for example), it could be a sign that something is up. Of course, if your toddler repeatedly has intense tantrums around the same person or in the same situation (for example, always on the preschool playground or always with the same teacher), you should take a look at what about that space or relationship might be triggering to your child.

More help with tantrums: 

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.