Triggers of 5 Year Old Temper Tantrums and Ways to Help

You cringe as you think about your last trip to the store with your toddler. A toy caught his eye as you forged through the aisles and he won't stop asking for it. You ponder if you should just give in and go back for it. Then you tell yourself he has to learn what "no" means. As you reach the checkout counter, your child throws one of those temper tantrums. With him in tow kicking and screaming, you throw your money at the clerk as you run out apologizing the whole time.

Tantrum on floor

Common Triggers of 5 Year Old Temper Tantrums

1. Fatigue

The number one reason a child throws a temper tantrum at this age is he is just tired. At 5 years old, children typically stop napping but this doesn't mean they don't get tired. If a nap is out of the question, have your child enjoy down time. He can lay on his bed reading a book or listening to soothing music. Even if it is just playing quietly, he can recharge. Without it, you may suffer from a breakdown later in the day that will result in kicking and screaming.

2. Hunger

You get grumpy when you are hungry, imagine what a five year old goes through. Children this young do not realize their bad mood has been triggered by hunger. Have snacks available in between meals as kids are constantly growing so their metabolism is on full blast.

3. Overstimulation

You take your child to the county fair thinking she is going to have the time of her life. She does, laughing and smiling the whole time. But as the end of the day draws near, you experience one of those 5 year old temper tantrums you will never forget. She dropped her snow cone and you would think it was the end of the world. What has really happened is the exciting sounds and sights of the day has overstimulated her and triggered a meltdown.

4. Severe Frustration

Frustration at this level is just waiting for something to happen so your child can release it. Anything can set it off. A task as simple as trying to zip up a jacket can cause severe frustration if your child is already tired or hungry. The situation will progress from bad to worse as his frustration grows with each failed attempt. The best thing to do is distract him with something else before the emotional explosion happens.

5. Feeling Misunderstood

Think back about a time when you couldn't get your point across to someone. It felt pretty lousy, right? Now think about your five year old going through the same thing. It can be even harder on your child because he hasn't even learned the words yet to express all his feelings. Not being able to express himself in a way you understand will lead to frustration. Let him know you are there to help him and be patient as he figures out a way to communicate with you.

How to Stop It

1. Allow Your Child Independence

Sometimes your child might act up because she wants control over her life. This is a time when she is learning about independence and making her own decisions. Help satisfy this desire by letting her make small decisions. Before going to bed, let her pick from a couple preselected outfits for the next day. In the morning, give her a choice of what she can have for breakfast. Don't ask her open-ended questions at this point. By doing so, you may be opening yourself up to an unwanted response.

2. Think of Things to Divert Your Child's Attention

Five year olds have a limited attention span so you can use this as an advantage. If you think a temper tantrum is in the making, divert your child's attention to something else. Distract him by offering him something interesting to play with, to watch on television or to eat. Bring distractions with you when you go out to eat or shopping. Pack a few of his favorite toys or a portable DVD player with headphones so he can be preoccupied with fun stuff instead of tantrum triggers.

3. Limit Errands

Keep in mind if you are trying to avoid 5 year old temper tantrums, you better limit your errands. She is not going to tolerate stopping at the eight different stores or businesses you have on your list. This is when it is important to prioritize and take care of the ones of urgency first. Finish up the rest of your errands when someone can stay home with your child or for the next day.

4. Remember to Give Your Child the Attention He Needs

Children act up when they are not getting the attention they need. Scold them when they misbehave and praise them for good deeds. Children crave attention, no matter the type. Set time aside each day to do something special with your child. Maybe after dinner, the two of you can sit together and play a favorite game. When you pick her up from school, ask about her day. Let her know you care about what is going on in her life.

5. Don't Be a Slave to the Tantrum

The worst thing you can do is try and help your child get through their temper tantrum. Do not give into it and do not accept it. Put your child in timeout, away from everyone else until he can calm himself down. If you are in public place, take him outside or to the car until he stops crying or screaming. If you are at home, take him to his room. It is important your child understands that this type of behavior will not be accepted and he will have to be away from everyone else until he calms down. Once his tantrum is done and he has time to reflect on what has happened, take the opportunity to discuss it with him.

6. Stay Calm and Take Control

Do not allow your child's tantrum to trigger your own breakdown. It is important that she sees you are in control of the situation and are confident in your actions. If you start to have your own meltdown, it will only make things worse. Your child cannot control her emotions and actions at this point so she will need you to do it for her.

7. Teach Your Child the Meaning of "No"

If your child sees you give in every time he throws a tantrum, then you better watch out because he will use it to his advantage every time. It may be tempting to make his behavior stop but it won't solve anything in the end. Your child needs to know the meaning of “no” and the consequences that go with it. This is when he learns he cannot get everything he wants.

When to Worry

It is normal for children to experience 5 year old temper tantrums, but there are some signs to look for during a child's fit that may require additional attention. These warning signs can be seen in any child, but if they are present during every tantrum it may be a problem.

  • Hostility: If your child is hostile towards other people and objects, it might be a symptom of a disruptive disorder. If it occurs more than 50% of the time in the last 20 tantrums, it is time to get an evaluation.
  • Frequency: If you child is throwing more than 20 tantrums at home during a one month period or more than 5 or 6 a day on several days away from home, you should make an appointment with your pediatrician.
  • Injuring Self: When a child is depressed or suffers a disruptive behavior disorder, he might commit self-injury. Type of behavior includes biting himself, banging his head on a wall, scratching himself or kicking something to injure his foot.
  • Inconsolable: If your child cannot console and calm himself without external interference, you should speak with your pediatrician.
  • Long Tantrums: Temper tantrums usually last about five minutes and even that can seem like forever. However, if you child's tantrums are closer to half an hour, there might be underlying problems triggering his fits.
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