No, I’m not talking about a tantrum that has spanned five years. Now that would be epic and quite painful. Today’s Ask Dr.Mom is all about the dreaded tantrum. That unwanted and yet inevitable badge of motherhood. We have all found ourselves in the eye of the storm at one time or another, and one of my readers posed this question:
Is it normal for a five year old to have tantrums?
The short answer is yes. However, we will have to delve into this a little deeper to see if perhaps there may be any reason for concern.
Tantrums are generally thought to be more common in toddlerhood and with good reason: they are more common in toddlerhood. This really comes as no surprise if you think about what is at the core of a tantrum…frustration. Toddlers have plenty of reasons and opportunities to become frustrated. They have limited vocabulary, they want to do things themselves but often lack the coordination to do so, and they often feel misunderstood.
That being said, toddlers aren’t the only ones prone to frustration. Heck, we all get frustrated every now and then. Adults have tantrums too, they just manifest them differently (hopefully). So it should also come as no surprise that your five year old may have a mini meltdown from time to time. Think about being five for a minute. It’s a whole new world in so many ways. Starting kindergarten, having more responsibility, possibly losing their first tooth, learning how to ride a bike without training wheels, making new friends, learning a new sport, and the list goes on. Five year olds have a lot of new things on their plates. Throw them a little curve ball and all can come tumbling down if the circumstances are just right.
The trick is to figure out what the tantrum triggers are for your child. For my five year old, I can usually spot a meltdown coming down the pike and I’ll try to be proactive and head it off before it explodes into a huge crying meltdown mess. Here are the most common tantrum triggers:
Fatigue: This is probably the number one trigger. Even if your child no longer naps during the day, five year olds still need some down time. Encourage some quiet time during the day. I recall vividly a day in the not so distant past, when my son had a super busy, no rest day, culminating in a dinner soccer party. Long story short, we suffered through agonizing cries all the way home. He was simply tired and the loss of his balloon was what tipped the scale in the tantrum direction.
Hunger: Again, a common culprit. Five year olds may not recognize yet that the reason they are feeling grumpy is because they are hungry. They need a snack. When the whining starts and you’ve figured out hunger is the cause, say to your child “you are hungry, you need a snack”. This will help her recognize why she is feeling this way and hopefully next time, instead of whining about something, she will simply ask for a snack.
Overstimulation: Ever been to one of those birthday parties where the noise is so loud you can’t even hear yourself think? Next thing you know, your child is a mess of tears running in your direction because someone spilled her drink. Sure, kids love birthday parties but they can quickly become overstimulated and prone to meltdowns.
Extreme frustration (usually in the eye of one of the above): My son had a mini meltdown trying to tie his shoelace. He didn’t want help, he didn’t want me to talk, he wanted to do it, and he was getting more and more frustrated with each attempt. It didn’t help that we were approaching the end of a long day. Diversion was my best tactic in this scenario.
Feeling misunderstood: This leads right back to frustration. Even though five year olds have a fantastic vocabulary and are easy to understand, they still have difficulty communicating about emotions. Help her express her emotions, echo what she is saying, and let her know you are trying to understand. Even if you don’t quite get it, a little empathy can go a long way.
Food insensitivity: could your child have an unknown food sensitivity? If you suspect this may be the case, keep a tantrum diary. Record events surrounding the tantrum as well as foods eaten at or around that time.
Still unsure if your five year old’s tantrum falls into the realm of “normal”? Here are some red flags to be aware of:
-Physical aggression toward others or self injury
-Frequent tantrums with unknown cause or trigger
-Inability to calm self down
-Your child exhibits signs of low self esteem
-Your child is consistently destructive in the throes of a tantrum
If your child persistently displays any of these, contact your child’s pediatrician for further evaluation.
*Keep in mind that children with hearing or vision loss, a chronic medical illness, or a learning/behavioral disability will be prone to more frequent tantrums. Again, the culprit is usually frustration and/or the inability to communicate effectively. If you suspect any of these in your child, have her evaluated by her doctor.*
Five year olds crave independence but at the same time they crave consistency and limits. This can certainly be a fine line to tread. The good news is, at five, your child usually wants to and can talk about what is bothering her. Once the storm has passed, take the opportunity to discuss with your child what happened. Don’t belabor or harp on her behavior, instead figure out together how you can help her feel more in control. Hopefully, in time, these tantrums will decrease and evolve into “moments of frustration” that you can both work through together.
Do you have any tips for diffusing or preventing a tantrum?