A tantrum (or temper tantrum or tirade or hissy fit) is an emotional outburst, usually associated with children or those in emotional distress, that is typically characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, yelling, shrieking, defiance, angry ranting, a resistance to attempts at pacification and, in some cases, violence. Physical control may be lost, the person may be unable to remain still, and even if the "goal" of the person is met he or she may not be calmed.[1][2][3][4][5] A tantrum may be expressed in a tirade: a protracted, angry, or violent speech.[1][2]



Tantrums are one of the most common forms of problematic behaviour in young children but tend to decrease in frequency and intensity as the child grows older. For the toddler, 'tantrums are normal...the force of the tantrum is a kind of measure of the strength of character the child can possess eventually, if [s]he's helped to harness that energy'.[6]

While tantrums may be seen as a predictor of future anti-social behaviour,[7] in another sense they are simply 'a manifestation of a loss of control and frustration that your child doesn't have the capacity to deal with - yet'; and so 'with patience and a consistent reaction to tantrums, they'll get fewer and farther between as your child grows'.[8]

Although 'when a child is in a tantrum, it is all too apparent that it is wanting something, desperately wanting it...what the child is also needing is something very different...for someone to provide a parental firmness that can help the child to cope with frustration that is age-appropriate'.[9]

Selma Fraiberg warned against 'too much pressure or forceful methods of control from the outside' in child-rearing: 'if we turn every instance of pants changing, treasure hunting, napping, puddle wading and garbage distribution into a governmental crisis we can easily bring on fierce defiance, tantrums, and all the fireworks of revolt in the nursery'.[10]


Freud considered that the Wolf Man's development of temper tantrums - as he became 'discontented, irritable and violent, took offence on every possible occasion, and then flew into a rage and screamed like a savage'[11] - was connected with his seduction by his sister.

He also considered that subsequently 'the patient's fits of rage and scenes of fury were put to a new purpose...to force punishments and...satisfy his sense of guilt'.[12] Freud added that 'I do not know how often parents and educators, faced with inexplicable naughtiness on the part of a child, might not have occasion to bear this typical state of affairs in mind. A child who behaves in this inexplicable way is making a confession and trying to provoke punishment...setting his sense of guilt at rest'.[13]

Jealousy over the birth of a sibling, and resulting aggression, may also provoke tantrums: 'the efforts to control himself produced temper tantrums "over nothing" dozens of times a day...stormy and negativistic'.[14]

Some people who have neurological disorders such as the combination of autism or mental retardation[15] could be more prone to tantrums than others, although anyone experiencing forebrain damage (temporary or permanent) can suffer from tantrums. Anyone may be prone to tantrums once in a while, regardless of gender or age.


Heinz Kohut contended that 'the infant's core is likely to contain a self-centred, grandiose-exhibitionist part', and that 'tantrums at being frustrated thus represent narcissistic rages'[16] at the blow to the inflated self-image. With 'a child confronted with some refusal...regardless of its justifications, the refusal automatically provokes fury, since it offends his sense of omnipotence'.[17]

In later life

Thackeray claimed that in later life 'you may tell a Tantrum as far as you can see one, by the distressed and dissatisfied expression of its countenance - "Tantrumical", if we may term it so'.[18]

In the celebrity culture of the 21st century, the "Tantrumical" may come to full flower in the form of 'the celebrity tantrum. Many celebrity icons, regardless of their chronological age, are renowned for appearing incredibly immature and throwing temper tantrums whenever they don't get their own way'.[19] Dan Millman 'coined the term Acquired Situational Narcissism to describe the destructive and outrageous behaviour of those who are constantly in the public eye. This late-acquired narcissism...'[20] - tantrum-y.

Notable people

  • Tennis player Ilie Năstase is best remembered for being one of the best players never to win the singles title at Wimbledon, for his tantrums, and his good looks.[21]

Examples from media

  • The Town Santa Forgot, an animated television special, is the story is of Jeremy Creek, a boy who knows nothing but greed. He throws temper tantrums any time he sees what he wants, and he wants everything he sees.

See also


  1. ^ a b "What is a tantrum?". Babycentre.co.uk. http://www.babycentre.co.uk/toddler/penelopeleach/whatisatantrum/. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  2. ^ a b "Temper Tantrums". Kidshealth.org. http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/tantrums.html. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  3. ^ "Tantrums". BabyCenter. http://www.babycenter.com/0_tantrums_11569.bc. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  4. ^ "When a Child Has a Tantrum - The Natural Child Project". Naturalchild.org. http://www.naturalchild.org/jan_hunt/tantrum.html. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  5. ^ "Make Nice With Mom". Girl World Daily. 2003-04-03. http://www.girlworlddaily.com/feature/make_nice_with_mom/index.html?gclid=CODf47WjpqYCFQZO4QodURHeZg. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  6. ^ Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (London 1993) p. 177
  7. ^ Potegal, Michael Ph.D., L.P.; Davidson, Richard J. Ph.D. (June 2003). "Temper Tantrums in Young Children". Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 24 (3): 140–147. 
  8. ^ Roy Benaroch, Solving Health and Behavioral Problems from Birth Through Preschool (2008) p. 157
  9. ^ Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (London 1990) p. 113-4
  10. ^ Selma H. Fraiberg, The Magic Years (New York 1987) p. 65
  11. ^ Sigmund Freud, Case Histories II (PFL 9) p. 242
  12. ^ Freud, p. 257
  13. ^ Freud, p. 257-8
  14. ^ Fraiberg, p. 152
  15. ^ Dominick KC, Davis NO, Lainhart J, Tager-Flusberg H, Folstein S (2007). "Atypical behaviors in children with autism and children with a history of language impairment". Res Dev Disabil 28 (2): 145–62. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2006.02.003. PMID 16581226. 
  16. ^ H. and I. Goldenberg, Family Therapy (2007) p. 172
  17. ^ Edmund Bergler in J. Halliday/P. Fuller eds., The Psychology of Gambling (London 1974) p. 182
  18. ^ William Makepeace Thackeray, The Irish Sketch Book (1848) p. 138
  19. ^ Cooper Lawrence, The Cult of Celebrity (2009) p. 72
  20. ^ Simon Crompton, All about Me (London 2007) p. 176
  21. ^ "Nastase embodies an era with a touch of class". The Independent (London). June 28, 2003. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/nastase-embodies-an-era-with-a-touch-of-class–542101.html. Retrieved May 5, 2010. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Tantrum — Tan trum, n. 1. A whim; an affected air. [Colloq. and archaic] Thackeray. [1913 Webster] 2. A display of ill humor, especially a demonstration of rage or frustration by shouting or violent physical movements, such as the stamping of feet; called… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • tantrum — [n] fit anger, animosity, conniption, dander*, flare up, hemorrhage*, huff*, hysterics, outburst, storm*, temper, temper tantrum, wax; concepts 306,384 Ant. calm, contentment, peace …   New thesaurus

  • tantrum — (n.) 1714, originally colloquial, of unknown origin …   Etymology dictionary

  • tantrum — ► NOUN ▪ an uncontrolled outburst of anger and frustration, typically in a young child. ORIGIN of unknown origin …   English terms dictionary

  • tantrum — [tan′trəm] n. [< ?] a violent, willful outburst of annoyance, rage, etc.; childish fit of bad temper …   English World dictionary

  • tantrum — n. 1) to have, throw a tantrum 2) a temper tantrum (he threw a temper tantrum) * * * [ tæntrəm] throw a tantrum to have a temper tantrum (he threw a temper tantrum) …   Combinatory dictionary

  • Tantrum — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Tantrum est le premier groupe d Angus Young qu il créa avant de rejoindre AC/DC. Tantrum est un trio de hardcore montpelliérain. Tantrum est le nom adopté …   Wikipédia en Français

  • tantrum — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ temper ▪ major (esp. AmE) ▪ little ▪ He had a little temper tantrum yesterday. ▪ occasional …   Collocations dictionary

  • tantrum — [[t]tæ̱ntrəm[/t]] tantrums N COUNT (disapproval) If a child has a tantrum, they lose their temper in a noisy and uncontrolled way. If you say that an adult is throwing a tantrum, you are criticizing them for losing their temper and acting in a… …   English dictionary

  • tantrum — UK [ˈtæntrəm] / US noun [countable] Word forms tantrum : singular tantrum plural tantrums an occasion when someone suddenly behaves in a very angry and unreasonable way, often screaming, crying, or refusing to obey someone. This word is usually… …   English dictionary

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