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When older kids still have tantrums: What to know

By Bob Cunningham, EdM

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It’s common for young kids to have temper tantrums when they don’t get their way. But by the age of 8 or 9, tantrums have tapered off for most kids. 

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When older kids have tantrums, people may see them as spoiled or disrespectful. The truth isn’t so simple, though. Tantrums happen for a reason.

As kids grow up, they typically develop language skills to express feelings like frustration and anger. They learn to negotiate for what they want. Most learn to handle strong emotions and cope with disappointment.

But some kids take longer to learn to handle strong emotions and cope with disappointment. They may struggle with self-control or anxiety, or have trouble putting feelings into words. These and other reasons can lead to older kids having frequent tantrums.

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Why it happens

Tantrums may be a sign that older kids are having a hard time in certain areas. Their challenges may be with learning, behavior, or both.

When older kids have frequent tantrums, trouble managing emotions is often the cause. They may have trouble with self-control and, as a result, have a hard time calming down when they’re upset.

Stress and anxiety can play a role, too. When kids get stressed about certain activities, they may throw tantrums to avoid them. For example, kids who are struggling with schoolwork may throw a tantrum to avoid doing homework .

And some kids face specific struggles that can make tantrums continue long after their peers have stopped having them. For example, they may be struggling with language and have trouble putting their feelings into words. Or they may be doing poorly at school and use tantrums as a coping mechanism.

Learn more about why kids have trouble managing emotions .

When a tantrum is really a meltdown

They may sound and even look like they’re the same thing, but tantrums are very different from meltdowns. Kids can often control tantrums. Meltdowns are beyond their control. The causes are usually different, too.

For example, meltdowns often happen when kids are overstimulated and feeling overwhelmed. Tantrums happen when kids want something or are frustrated. 

Learn more about the difference between tantrums and meltdowns .

Next steps

To prevent tantrums, be clear and consistent about expectations. When kids know what will and won’t happen (dinner’s at 7 — no cookies before dinner), they’re less likely to have a tantrum over it. So be sure to warn them if a routine is going to change.

As you take notes on what triggers tantrums, you may start to see patterns. Use that information to prevent tantrums. If having to stop playing to do work sets off a tantrum, try giving a 10-minute warning and then a five-minute warning ahead of time.

If schoolwork seems to be causing tantrums, parent-teacher communication is key. Find out what it looks like when kids are frustrated about school, and connect with your child’s teacher or your student’s parent or caregiver to start a conversation.

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