A Toddler Who Never had Temper Tantrums May Not be So Great at Age Five
For many children temper tantrums between the ages two and five have gradually declined in frequency and intensity. By age five, the temper tantrums associated with two-year-olds and three-year-olds are generally a behavior of the past as children now show enough maturity to get ready to enter kindergarten.
However, there are some five-year-olds for whom temper tantrums are just beginning and when they occur are severe meltdowns. These fives who are showing temper tantrums at this rather advanced age are generally perplexing to their parents. For instance, Kari, the mother of five-year-old Raymond doesn’t understand why Raymond is having tantrums now.
“Raymond was a perfect child,” Kari told me, “up until a few months ago. Then he became more easily frustrated and started having these temper tantrums where he would bang his head, throw toys, and hit anyone close to him at the moment.”
I suggested that perhaps she considered Raymond a “perfect child” because he never experienced temper tantrums like other children during the toddler years.
“That’s right,” Kari said. “My friends always told me about those meltdowns their two- and three-year-olds were having and I’d just look at them wondering what they were talking about.”
I couldn’t help saying to her that parents should beware of perfect children. I went on to explain that, of course, no child is really perfect. They might all be perfectly wonderful in their own way, but there’s no such thing as a perfect child. And if you consider your child perfect, then either you love her to pieces despite her flaws or she is so easy to raise because she’s never gone through the typical stages other children go through. I believe that every child needs to experience most or all of the usual stages of development.
The usual stages of development including learning to crawl, learning to use speech and language, becoming independent (which generally involves saying no and being resistant), and having temper tantrums during the toddler years. Those temper tantrums that most parents find so challenging are important because they help children learn to deal with their frustrations, regulate their anger and other emotions, and find out how to cope with not always having their desires met immediately.
When their impulses for immediate gratification are thwarted, children are forced to learn how to cope with the resulting frustration and anger. In the process of learning how to cope, they figure out that there are better ways to handle all of the little frustrations of life besides going ballistic. The “perfect” toddler, however, doesn’t have these experiences and while they might be easier to handle for their parents, they miss out on the important advantages that tantrums provide for them. When they are older and encounter new and more complex frustrations, they are not well equipped to handle those frustrations.
That is the situation for Raymond and his mother Kari. Since Raymond missed out on having toddler temper tantrums, those tantrums simply are delayed and come along at a later age. Now, he’s ready to enter kindergarten where children find that they are expected to sit in a seat at school, do what the teacher wants them to do, and work out conflicts peacefully with other children. Given these expectations, the challenges of kindergarten will be greater for some children, like Raymond.
As Raymond and similar children work on the challenges of learning to regulate their emotions and control their behavior in a group setting, they may be viewed as more immature – by both the teacher and their peers. However, experienced kindergarten teachers will be able to handle such children and help them learn to follow the expectations of the first year in school while they struggle with learning to control their impulses and their emotions.
If you have a five-year-old who is going through this stage of delayed tantrums, try to make sure he or she has an experienced and patient teacher and give that teacher some advance warning about what they’re going to be facing. By working together with the teacher in the fall, when kindergarten begins, your child can get through this delayed stage with relative ease.