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

A tantrum, temper tantrum, or hissy fit is an emotional outburst, usually associated with those in emotional distress, that is typically characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, violence, defiance, 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.[1][2][3][4][5][6] A tantrum may be expressed in a tirade: a protracted, angry speech.[1][2][7]

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 grows older[8]. For the toddler, tantrums can be considered as normal, even as gauges of developing strength of character.[9][10][11]

Child having a tantrum

While tantrums are sometimes seen as a predictor of future anti-social behaviour,[12] in another sense they are simply an age-appropriate sign of excessive frustration[13], and will diminish over time given a calm and consistent handling.[14][15][16] Parental containment where a child cannot contain itself—rather than what the child is ostensibly demanding—may be what is really required.[17]

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".[18]

Intellectual and developmental disorders[edit]

Some people who have developmental disorders such as autism,[19][20] ADHD, and intellectual disability[21] could be more vulnerable to tantrums than others, although anyone experiencing brain damage (temporary or permanent) can suffer from tantrums[22]. Anyone may be prone to tantrums once in a while, regardless of gender or age.[23][24] However, a meltdown due to sensory overload (which even neurotypical children can experience) is not the same as a temper tantrum.[25]


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".[26] Freud linked the tantrums to an unconscious need for punishment driven by feelings of guilt[27]—something which he thought could be generalised to many other cases of childhood tantrums.[28]

Heinz Kohut contended that tantrums were narcissistic rages,[29] 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.[30]

Jealousy over the birth of a sibling, and resulting aggression, may also provoke negativistic tantrums, as the effort at controlling the feelings overloads the child's system of self-regulation.[31][32]

In later life[edit]

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".[33]

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"[29] 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".[30]

The willingness of the celebrity to throw tantrums whenever thwarted to the least degree[34] is a kind of Acquired Situational Narcissism[35] or tantrumical behavior.

If tantrums are shown by older people they might often be signs of immaturity and a mental disability; however, many people can have them under extreme stress.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "What is a tantrum?". Babycentre.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
  2. ^ a b "Temper Tantrums". Kidshealth.org. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
  3. ^ "Tantrums". BabyCenter. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
  4. ^ "When a Child Has a Tantrum – The Natural Child Project". Naturalchild.org. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
  5. ^ Mullen, J.K. (1983). "Understanding and managing the temper tantrum". Child Care Quarterly. 12 (1): 59–70. doi:10.1007/BF01258080.
  6. ^ E.R., Geelerd (1945). "Observations on temper tantrums in children". American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 15 (2): 238–246. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.1945.tb04937.x.
  7. ^ Daniels, Mandleco, E. Luthy, Elizabeth, Barbara, Karlen (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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Banham Bridges, Katharine M. (1932). "Emotional Development in Early Infancy". Child Development. 3 (4): 324–341. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1932.tb05842.x. JSTOR 1125359.
  9. ^ Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (London 1993) p. 177
  10. ^ S., Isaacs (1940). "Temper tantrums in early childhood in their relation to internal objects". The International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 21: 280–293.
  11. ^ A, Solter (1992). "Understanding Tears and Tantrums". Young Children. 47 (4): 64–68. JSTOR 42725308.
  12. ^ Potegal, Michael, L.P.; 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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ J.A., P.G., M., Green, Whitney, Potegal (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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Roy Benaroch, Solving Health and Behavioral Problems from Birth Through Preschool (2008) p. 157
  15. ^ C.B., Kopp (1989). "Regulation of distress and negative emotions: A developmental view". Developmental Psychology. 25 (3): 343–354. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.25.3.343.
  16. ^ Levine, Linda (1995). "Young Children's Understanding of the Causes of Anger and Sadness". Child Development. 66 (3): 967–709. JSTOR 1131944.
  17. ^ Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (London 1990) p. 113-4
  18. ^ Selma H. Fraiberg, The Magic Years (New York 1987), p. 65
  19. ^ P.J., Margolies (1977). "Behavioral approaches to the treatment of early infantile autism: A review". Psychological Bulletin. 84 (2): 249–264. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.84.2.249.
  20. ^ C, Lord (1993). Edsopler, Bourgondien, Bristol, Eds. E., M. Van, & M. (ed.). "Early Social Development in Autism. In Preschool Issues in Autism". In Preschool Issues in Autism. New York: Plenum Press: 61–94.CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link)
  21. ^ J,L, Luiselli, Murbach (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.
  22. ^ G. E., P. M., P. S., L., G., Lancioni, Smeets, Ceccarani, Capodaglio, Campanari (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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  23. ^ "Temper Tantrums and Autism - LoveToKnow". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  24. ^ Osterman, Bjorkqvist, Karin, 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 (inactive 2019-12-03).
  25. ^ Bennie, Maureen (2 February 2016). "Tantrum vs Autistic Meltdown: What Is The Difference?". Autism Awareness. Autism Awareness Centre Inc. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  26. ^ Sigmund Freud, Case Histories II (PFL 9) p. 242
  27. ^ Freud, p. 257
  28. ^ Sigmund Freud, Case Histories II (PFL 9) p. 257-8 and p. 242
  29. ^ a b H. and I. Goldenberg, Family Therapy (2007) p. 172
  30. ^ a b Edmund Bergler in J. Halliday/P. Fuller eds., The Psychology of Gambling (London 1974) p. 182
  31. ^ Selma H. Fraiberg, The Magic Years (New York 1987) p. 152
  32. ^ Tracy, A. Dennis (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.
  33. ^ William Makepeace Thackeray, The Irish Sketch Book (1848) p. 138
  34. ^ Cooper Lawrence, The Cult of Celebrity (2009) p. 72
  35. ^ Simon Crompton, All about Me (London 2007) p. 176
  36. ^ "North Jersey". North Jersey. Retrieved 25 March 2018.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of tantrum at Wiktionary