How Temper Tantrums Work

By: Cristen Conger

Author's Note: How Temper Tantrums Work

When I began researching How Temper Tantrums Work, I was initially worried that my brain -- the prefrontal cortex, to be precise -- might play an evil trick on me and balk at the prospect of writing this article. Instead of dutifully typing away, I imagined myself kicking and screaming at my desk, which probably wouldn't have ended well, even if the average temper tantrum only lasts about 3 minutes. Thankfully, my adult prefrontal cortex is in good enough working order to keep my social behavior in check.

Toddlers aren't so lucky, nor are the parents who catch evil glances when their tots pitch fits in supermarkets and elsewhere. Temper tantrums in children tend to elicit judgment about parenting skills, when the bizarre behavior really just boils down to prefrontal cortex development in the brain. In fact, the "terrible twos" are a common, normal part of childhood that fade away at about 4 years of age, once a neural growth spurt helps kids manage their needs and keep their attitudes in check. For parents, I hope this article can offer some useful tips as well as a sigh of relief that temper tantrums probably aren't their fault. And for non-parents like me, learning about the neurological underpinnings of these royal fits should stimulate the part of our brains that registers parental sympathy the next time we witness a toddler meltdown in action.


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