Everyone who has ever watched their child kick and scream at seemingly the smallest things has probably felt at some point like a complete failure as a parent.
After all, a good parent has an extremely well-behaved child who instantly obeys and listens and knows that when mom says no, mom means no and will just go along with it, right?
Anything else resembling defiant, rude, non-compliant and disobedient behavior is a sign of a bad parent , right?
WRONG! Particularly when it comes to children aged 18 months to 4 years.
Temper Tantrums Explained: Immature Brain Development
Michael Potegal, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist at the University of Minnesota who has studied tantrums during his professional career, says that these temper “outbursts are a normal biological response to anger and frustration as a yawn is to fatigue. So normal, in fact, that you can make a science out of the progression of a tantrum and predict one down to the second.” (1)
“Kids from about 18 months to 4 years are simply hardwired to misbehave” because the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the area of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and controlling social behavior is the last area of the brain to develop, and has only just begun to mature at age four. (1)
A report out of the University of Pennsylvania says that the underdevelopment of the PFC “may serve an important developmental role in the acquisition of language ... [and] allows children to master a new language much more easily than adults.” (1)
This may come as little consolation when you and your child(ren) are in the middle of one of these episodes.
Temper Tantrums Explained: Stress
Temper tantrums are also a child’s way of dealing with perceived stress, and parents must remember that children perceive stress in situations adults wouldn’t normally deem stressful. Children also deal with stress much differently than adults.
Gina Mireault, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Johnson State College (Vermont), explains it this way, “Kids this age think magically, not logically ... Events that are ordinary to us are confusing and scary to them.