7 Steps to Dealing With Extreme Tantrums in 4-Year-Olds (2022)

| Causes | How to deal with extreme tantrums when they happen | How to address underlying issues | When to worry (5 red flags) |

Is it normal for a 4-year-old to have tantrums?

Having temper tantrums is a normal part of child development. Although many little kids stop having toddler tantrums by the time they turn four, It is still normal for some 4-year-olds to have them.

Here are some tantrum statistics.

1. The majority of temper tantrums occur in children between 18 months and 4 years of age.

  • 87% at 18 to 24 months old
  • 91% at 30 to 36 months old
  • 59% at 42 to 48 months old

2. Age-appropriate tantrums are most common among 3-year-olds and usually decline as they age​1​.

3. Boys tend to throw tantrums more often than girls​2​.

4. In seemingly healthy children, typical tantrum behaviors include crying, screaming, and hitting. Yet healthy kids can also show less common behaviors such as holding their breath, head-banging, and extreme emotional dysregulation.

7 Steps to Dealing With Extreme Tantrums in 4-Year-Olds (1)

Why does my 4 year old keep having tantrums every day

Frequent tantrums in a 4-year-old indicate that the child has not learned to regulate their big emotions and cope with frustration. These children have very low frustration tolerance.

Normally, as they grow older, toddlers gain language skills that enable them to talk about their strong feelings rather than throwing fits.

By age 4, frequent temper tantrums should stop or begin to decline. But if they increase in frequency, duration, and intensity, there may be other underlying causes that lead to extreme behaviors.

Here are some potential causes of extreme behaviors in a 4-year-old child’s tantrums.

Sensory integration processing

Highly sensitive children or those with sensory processing challenges have a lower tolerance for stress. They generally have a harder time handling disappointment, are less able to regulate themselves, and throw more tantrums​3​.

Speech delay

Children who experience speech delay are prone to constant tantrums because it is more difficult to have their needs met​4​.

Sleep deprivation

Not having enough sleep could be a cause for excessive and long tantrums.

Researchers have found that shorter nighttime sleep duration is associated with higher instances of emotional meltdowns and externalizing behavior in 4-year-olds​5​.

Sleep disturbances can be caused by various reasons – late bedtime, too much screen time, sleep apnea, etc.

(Video) HOW TO STOP TANTRUMS FOREVER! (3 Easy Steps) | Dr. Paul

Physiological needs

Hunger, excessive fatigue, physical illness, and poor child health are associated with severe temper tantrums.

7 Steps to Dealing With Extreme Tantrums in 4-Year-Olds (2)

A lack of role models for emotional skills

Studies indicate that parents of children who have behavioral problems often lack self-regulation skills and throw temper tantrums themselves​2​.

Their children are not only deprived of good role models, but these parents are also more reactive escalating matters faster and more intensely​6​.

Parents wellbeing

The well-being of parents and family climate can have an impact on children’s ability to regulate. More intense tantrums in children are associated with maternal depression and irritability, marital discord, and family stress​7​.

Ineffective parenting

Parenting practices such as strict parenting, inconsistent discipline, over-criticism, neglect, and overprotection can contribute to tantrum-throwing in children​2​.

Psychiatric disorders

52% of children exhibiting severe tantrums had other behavioral or emotional problems such as mood disorders (depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, mania​8​) or disruptive disorders (oppositional defiant disorder).

Depressed children are more aggressive towards objects during tantrums, and they are more likely to engage in self-harming behavior. Disruptive kids show more aggression and have a harder time recovering from tantrums​9​.


Aggressive tantrums and hitting are common problems in children with an autism spectrum disorder​10​.

Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who also have other disorders such as mania or ODD tend to have violent tantrums, too​11​.

7 Steps to Dealing With Extreme Tantrums in 4-Year-Olds (3)

How to deal with extreme tantrums when they happen

Managing extreme tantrums is similar to managing toddler temper tantrums when they happen.

The following is a summary of the 7 steps for dealing with disruptive tantrums at the moment (click here for the detailed guide).

  1. The first step is to address the safety issue. Move the child to a safe place. If it is a public tantrum, you may have to leave the venue. It’s a good idea to let your acquaintance know ahead of time and have a backup plan in case you have to leave early.
  2. Check to see if hunger, anger, loneliness, or fatigue are the causes.
  3. You can hold or hug them to restore their emotional balance or prevent them from hurting themselves or others.
  4. Don’t try to reason and don’t punish.
  5. Don’t give in to their demands while staying calm and positive.
  6. Focus on helping them learn to self-regulate. Teach them to take deep breaths.
  7. After they have calmed down, teach them how to express strong emotions and needs in appropriate ways.
7 Steps to Dealing With Extreme Tantrums in 4-Year-Olds (4)

How to address the underlying issues

Talk to your pediatrician

Talk to the pediatrician about your child’s uncontrollable tantrums. Ask them to screen for issues such as sensory processing sensitivity, language delay, sleep apnea, major depression, ADHD, anxiety, autism, etc.

Be a warm, responsive parent

Warm, responsive parenting is linked to more compliance and fewer tantrums in children​12​.Children with responsive parents tend to be securely attached and show more positive behavior​13​.

Practice autonomy-supportive parenting

Giving children some autonomy helps cut down on severe tantrums. Parents must balance their need for obedience with their children’s need for a sense of control. When it comes to something that does not affect health or safety, children should be able to make their own decisions.

Work on your own self-regulation

Model the behavior your want to see in your children. We cannot expect our kids to control their emotions if we cannot control ours.

Self-care and taking deep breaths are simple yet effective ways to regulate emotions. Seek professional help if you are suffering from depression or other health issues.

(Video) How to Handle a 4 Year Old Tantrum

Work out marital issues. Fighting in front of children on occasion isn’t necessarily harmful, but don’t let it become a dysfunctional family habit.

For more help on calming tantrums, check out this step-by-step guide

7 Steps to Dealing With Extreme Tantrums in 4-Year-Olds (6)

When you should worry about extreme tantrums in your four-year-old

Up to 30% of healthy preschoolers show emotional outbursts from time to time. Hence, occasional tantrums that are intense are not a cause for concern.

However, psychologists have identified five ‘red-flag’ tantrum behaviors that parents can watch for​9​.

5 high-risk tantrum styles that warrant a mental health evaluation.

  1. Consistent display of aggressive behavior directed at caregivers and/or objects (i.e. more than half of the last 10–20 tantrum episodes.)
  2. Intentionally engage in self-injurious behavior during tantrums.
  3. Have 10–20 tantrum episodes at home during the past month, or on average more than 5 tantrums a day for multiple days.
  4. Tantrum duration lasts longer than 25 minutes on average.
  5. In general, they cannot calm themselves during tantrums without help from caregivers.

Consult your child’s physician or clinical psychologist if you notice any of these issues or if you are concerned about your child’s behavior in general.

If you have a 3 year old and their tantrums are getting worse, there is one simple thing you can do to help. Check out 3-Year-Old Temper Tantrums Getting Worse? Do This One Thing


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    POTEGAL M, DAVIDSON RJ. Temper Tantrums in Young Children: 1. Behavioral Composition. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Published online June 2003:140-147. doi:10.1097/00004703-200306000-00002

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    Bhatia MS, Dhar NK, Singhal PK, Nigam VR, Malik SC, Mullick DN. Prevalence and Etiology. Clin Pediatr (Phila). Published online June 1990:311-315. doi:10.1177/000992289002900603

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    (Video) 10 Tips To Stop Tantrums Before They Start

    Critz C, Blake K, Nogueira E. Sensory Processing Challenges in Children. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners. Published online July 2015:710-716. doi:10.1016/j.nurpra.2015.04.016

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    Marcus BA, Vollmer TR, Swanson V, Roane HR, Ringdahl JE. An Experimental Analysis of Aggression. Behav Modif. Published online April 2001:189-213. doi:10.1177/0145445501252002

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    Scharf RJ, Demmer RT, Silver EJ, Stein REK. Nighttime Sleep Duration and Externalizing Behaviors of Preschool Children. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Published online July 2013:384-391. doi:10.1097/dbp.0b013e31829a7a0d

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    Lorber MF. The role of maternal emotion regulation in overreactive and lax discipline. Journal of Family Psychology. Published online August 2012:642-647. doi:10.1037/a0029109

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    NEEDLMAN R, STEVENSON J, ZUCKERMAN B. Psychosocial Correlates of Severe Temper Tantrums. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Published online April 1991:77???83. doi:10.1097/00004703-199104000-00002

  8. 8.

    Spencer TJ. ADHD and comorbidity in childhood. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2006;67:27.


  9. 9.

    Belden AC, Thomson NR, Luby JL. Temper Tantrums in Healthy Versus Depressed and Disruptive Preschoolers: Defining Tantrum Behaviors Associated with Clinical Problems. The Journal of Pediatrics. Published online January 2008:117-122. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2007.06.030

  10. 10.

    Matson J. Aggression and Tantrums in Children with Autism: A Review of Behavioral Treatments and Maintaining Variables. Journal of Mental Health Research in Intellectual Disabilities. Published online June 30, 2009:169-187. doi:10.1080/19315860902725875

  11. 11.

    Carlson GA. Mania and ADHD: comorbidity or confusion. Journal of Affective Disorders. Published online November 1998:177-187. doi:10.1016/s0165-0327(98)00179-7

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    Kochanska G, Kim S. Difficult temperament moderates links between maternal responsiveness and children’s compliance and behavior problems in low-income families. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Published online October 11, 2012:323-332. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12002

  13. 13.

    Cabral de Mello M. Responsive parenting: interventions and outcomes. Bull World Health Organ. Published online December 1, 2006:991-998. doi:10.2471/blt.06.030163

(Video) How To Deal With Your Child's Temper Tantrums (5 Easy Steps) | Joyful Parents With Myla


How do I get my 4 year old to stop screaming tantrums? ›

How to prevent temper tantrums
  1. Stick to routines for meals and sleep times. ...
  2. Distract your child with a toy he or she is allowed to have.
  3. Be reasonable about what to expect from your child, and do not expect your child to be perfect.
  4. Help your child to avoid frustration. ...
  5. Let your child know your rules and stick to them.

How do you respond to a 4 year old tantrum? ›

For example:
  1. Be consistent. Establish a daily routine so that your child knows what to expect. ...
  2. Plan ahead. Run errands when your child isn't likely to be hungry or tired. ...
  3. Let your child make appropriate choices. Avoid saying no to everything. ...
  4. Praise good behavior. ...
  5. Avoid situations likely to trigger tantrums.

Is it normal for a 4 year old to have tantrums all the time? ›

Temper tantrums are a normal, if frustrating, part of child development. Toddlers throw frequent tantrums, an average of one a day. Temper tantrums often happen because children want to be independent but still seek a parent's attention. Young children also lack the verbal skills to express their feelings in words.

How many tantrums a day is normal for a 4 year old? ›

A study from the Washington University School of Medicine analyzed parent reports of tantrums in 279 mostly preschool children. The researchers identified characteristics of “normal” tantrum behavior: Kids generally had less than one tantrum per day, on average. An average tantrum lasted 11 minutes.

How do you discipline a defiant 4 year old? ›

5 strategies for dealing with your defiant preschooler
  1. Learning independence.
  2. Dealing with defiance.
  3. Explain the needs of the situation. ...
  4. Ask a question. ...
  5. Offer information or an alternative. ...
  6. Use humour. ...
  7. Involve your child in routines and decisions. ...
  8. Disengage.
Jul 6, 2009

What is the difference between meltdown and tantrum? ›

A tantrum is willful behaviour in younger children and therefore can be shaped by rewarding desired behaviours, whereas a meltdown can occur across a lifespan and isn't impacted by a rewards system. Tantrums slowly go away as a child grows up, but meltdowns may never go away.

How do you snap a child out of a meltdown? ›

Try these tips to stop tantrums in their tracks.
  1. Agree on a frustration signal. ...
  2. Assign a calm space. ...
  3. Think about what's causing the tantrum. ...
  4. Set clear expectations. ...
  5. Acknowledge your child's feelings. ...
  6. Ignore it. ...
  7. Praise the behavior you want to see. ...
  8. Get to know your child's triggers.

Does ignoring a tantrum work? ›

Ignoring is usually most effective for behaviors like whining, crying when nothing is physically wrong or hurting, and tantrums. These misbehaviors are often done for attention. If parents, friends, family, or other caregivers consistently ignore these behaviors, they will eventually stop.

When should I worry about my 4 year old tantrums? ›

If temper tantrums are more severe, lasting longer periods of time, and occurring multiple times per day and/or occurring in a child older than 5 on a regular basis, then it may be time to talk to your pediatrician or get a psychologist involved to help support the family.

Does ADHD cause tantrums? ›

Tantrums and defiance are not symptoms of ADHD itself, but they are often a result of ADHD symptoms. Inattention and impulsivity can make it very difficult for kids to tolerate tasks that are repetitive, or take a lot of work, or kids find boring.

Why is my 4 year old so angry? ›

Tantrums can make kids feel out of control and bad about themselves. A lot of anger in children is usually a sign that they are frustrated or in distress. It's important to find the cause. Anger issues in kids can be caused by conditions like autism, ADHD, anxiety or learning disorders.

What is a severe tantrum? ›

Atypical or severe tantrums, which are often marked by extreme aggression, high frequency, suddenness and specific triggers, are often the first (and easiest to recognize) sign of a behavioral, mood or anxiety disorder.

Is tantrums part of autism? ›

Know when to seek professional help.

As a reminder, tantrums are “normal,” but excessive outbursts can be a sign or symptom of autism or another behavioral disorder.

What does an autistic tantrum look like? ›

Two types of reaction are typical of autism meltdowns – an explosive reaction or a withdrawal. Explosive reactions may involve screaming, shouting, aggressive behaviour or crying. On the other hand, less explosive reactions may include refusing to communicate or interact, withdrawing themselves or shutting down.

How do you discipline a 4 year old strong willed? ›

12 Tips for Peaceful Parenting Your Strong-Willed, Spirited Child
  1. Remember that strong-willed kids are experiential learners. ...
  2. Your strong-willed child wants mastery more than anything. ...
  3. Give your strong-willed child choices. ...
  4. Give her authority over her own body. ...
  5. Avoid power struggles by using routines and rules.

How do you handle a difficult 4 year old? ›

Tips for managing your 4-year-old's behavior

keep a positive emotional tone. maintain a positive behavior cycle (praising behaviors that you want your child to display more of and not giving them negative attention for undesirable actions) keep a regular schedule for waking up, activities, and bed time.

How do I deal with an out of control 4 year old? ›

Use Positive Language

Focus on what your kids can do, rather than what they can't. So instead of saying, "No TV until you've cleaned your room," say, "You can watch TV as soon as your room is clean." Offer positive choices that will give your child a little bit of control.

What is worse than a tantrum? ›

Parents can feel helpless in the face of a meltdown because nothing they say or do seems to help. In fact, that should be the first clue it's escalated beyond tantrum—if ignoring it doesn't diffuse the behaviour, and even giving in (as a hail Mary) doesn't work, it's probably a meltdown.

What is an ADHD meltdown? ›

Similarly, people with ADHD can also experience 'meltdowns' more commonly than others, which is where emotions build up so extremely that someone acts out, often crying, angering, laughing, yelling and moving all at once, driven by many different emotions at once – this essentially resembles a child tantrum and can ...

What does a sensory meltdown look like? ›

During a sensory meltdown, children with special needs have very little control over their behavior. They may scream, break things, attack others and even try to hurt themselves.

How do you discipline a child without hitting and yelling? ›

If you're looking for alternative to spanking, here are eight ways to discipline your child without using physical punishment.
  1. Time-Out. ...
  2. Losing Privileges. ...
  3. Ignoring Mild Misbehavior. ...
  4. Teaching New Skills. ...
  5. Logical Consequences. ...
  6. Natural Consequences. ...
  7. Rewards for Good Behavior. ...
  8. Praise for Good Behavior.
Sep 17, 2020

At what age do meltdowns stop? ›

Tantrums usually begin in children 12 to 18 months old. They get worse between age 2 to 3, then decrease until age 4. After age 4, they rarely occur.

What should you not do during tantrums? ›

What NOT to Do When Your Child Is Having a Tantrum
  • DON'T invalidate your toddler's perspective or emotions.
  • DON'T tell your child how to feel.
  • DON'T lie to your child to head off a tantrum.
  • DON'T say that your child's behavior is making you sad.

Should you walk away from a tantrum? ›

Ignoring is the best strategy to make a tantrum stop. Avert your eyes, pretend you can't hear the screaming, and walk away if you have to, but make sure you don't provide your child with any type of attention.

How do you discipline a child who doesn't care about consequences? ›

Punishment for Kids Who Don't Respond to Punishment

Embrace natural consequences: When the punishment is specific to the offense and logical, kids have a better chance of modifying their behavior. Praise the right actions: Don't just punish the wrong behaviors. Make a habit of praising good decisions.

What does an ADHD tantrum look like? ›

Young children with ADHD are also extremely irritable — which can result in whining, demanding, or screaming every request they make — and prone to aggressive and angry outbursts. In the preschool classroom, students may whine if there are too many kids at the station or center where they want to play.

What are signs of ADHD in 4 year olds? ›

What are the symptoms of ADHD in children
  • Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes.
  • Has difficulty sustaining attention.
  • Does not appear to listen.
  • Struggles to follow through on instructions.
  • Has difficulty with organization.
  • Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring a lot of thinking.
  • Loses things.

What triggers ADHD meltdowns? ›

difficulty expressing thoughts or feelings. unmet physical needs, such as hunger or fatigue (lack of energy) a lack of alternative ways to manage emotions. prior reinforcement, which occurs when caregivers have previously given in to tantrums.

How long is too long for a tantrum? ›

But kids who consistently have tantrums that last more than 25 minutes may have underlying problems. "A normal child may have a tantrum that lasts an hour, but the next one lasts 30 seconds. These children with psychiatric disorders are having 25-minute or longer tantrums 90% of the time," Belden says.

What are autistic meltdowns? ›

According to Sonny Jane, a lived-experience educator and consultant on Kaurna Land in Australia, an autism meltdown is an extreme response to something that is upsetting. They say the lack of control regarding the situation can trigger a fight, flight, or freeze response, making the meltdowns difficult to regulate.

Why does my 4 year old scream and cry all the time? ›

All children cry when they're hungry, tired, uncomfortable, sick or in pain. Sometimes they cry because they need affection. Toddlers and older children might also cry because they're frustrated, sad or angry, for example.

What do you do when your 4 year old screams? ›

Here are five things you can start doing right away to stop the yelling and screaming:
  1. Use Face-to-face Communication. When you talk to your child, look them in the eye—don't yell from the kitchen. ...
  2. Have a Positive Regard. ...
  3. Use Structure. ...
  4. Talk to Your Child about Yelling. ...
  5. Get out of the Argument.

Why is my 4 year old yelling so much? ›

They may scream for joy, but more often it's because of anger or frustration. When they want something they can't have, their shrieking means, "I want my way – give it to me now!" Sometimes this screaming is the precursor to a full-blown temper tantrum, so if you can diffuse it early, it may save you a headache later.


(Playful Pathways)
2. How to Survive Toddler Temper Tantrums
(Cone Health)
3. TIPS | How To Deal With Temper Tantrums In Kids(Tried & Tested)
4. TEMPER TANTRUMS IN 1 YEAR OLDS: Tips for preventing tantrums
(Custom Built Parenthood)
5. 6 stages of Autism Meltdowns
(Autism Family)
6. Step by Step Pediatrics 15-month-old Temper Tantrums
(Central Ohio Primary Care)

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