Temper tantrums and agression in children - What is the difference?

Aggression and temper tantrums - What is the difference?

Most parents find it challenging to deal with their child’s tantrums and aggressive behaviour, and many frequently wonder if it is normal. Tantrums and meltdowns are frustrating and draining for both kids and adults. Toddlers have a tendency to lash out because they have not yet mastered the art of self-control. These happen when they are unable to control their intense emotions.

What does it mean?

Aggressive behaviour is defined as actions taken with the intent to harm another person. It happens when a child acts aggressively against other children, siblings, or adults. This can be both verbal and physical.

Unpleasant and disruptive behaviours or emotional outbursts are known as temper tantrums. They are more likely to occur in younger children or others who cannot express their needs or control their feelings when frustrated.

Aggression can be present in both a tantrum and a meltdown. Aggressive behaviour can be directed at others or oneself, while tantrums often occur in response to unmet needs or desires— in both cases, actions can start in the form of whining and crying and develop into screaming, kicking, and hitting.

How does it manifest itself at different ages?

Tantrums typically start when kids are between 12 and 18 months old. They get worse between the ages of 2 and 3, then improve until the age of 4. After this age, they happen rarely.

Background causes


Tantrums happen when kids are tired, hungry, or uncomfortable. More than they can handle, toddlers need freedom and control over their surroundings. They can have a meltdown because they can’t have something they want (like a puzzle or some sweets) or because they can’t get someone to do what they want (for example, getting a parent to pay attention to them immediately). Learning to deal with frustration is a skill that children gain over time. One reason is that toddlers want to express themselves but find it difficult. Because they can’t always say what they want or need, as words describing feelings are more complicated and develop later. They experience frustration, which manifests as a temper tantrum. Tantrums tend to become less common as language abilities improve.
Temper tantrums and agression in children - What is the difference?


  • Genetics and other biological factors
  • Environment and stressful surroundings are contributors as well
  • Frustration: One common trigger is frustration when a child cannot get what they want or are asked to do something they might not feel like doing.
  • Bullied by other kids
  • A harsh or coercive parenting style
  • Underlying medical problems and different situations in life
  • Injury: There are organic reasons for aggressive outbursts when a child has frontal lobe damage or certain types of epilepsy.
  • Trauma, family dysfunction, and certain parenting styles also make it more likely that a child will exhibit anger and/or aggression that interferes with their daily life.

For children, anger issues often accompany other mental health conditions, such as:

  • ADHD: Behavior perceived as violent might result from impulsivity and poor decision-making. These children often don’t consider the consequences of their actions, which may come across as callous or malicious when they’re really just not thinking about the consequences.
  • Autism: When children with autism become aggressive, they often do so because they have difficulty dealing with their anxiety or frustration and can’t verbalize their feelings as others do.
  • Mood issues, for example, bipolarity, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD),
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Conduct disorder


Tantrums are not as severe, cause fewer issues, and are much easier to deal with than aggression. However, if temper tantrums are getting worse and you do not think you can manage them, seek the advice of your healthcare provider.

For both aggression and tantrums, young children may be referred to a paediatrician or psychologist for a psychological or psychiatric evaluation.

Some options

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Parent management techniques (PMT)
  • Some children also take medication to help manage other mental health conditions that can result in aggressive behaviour (such as ADHD, anxiety, or depression).

At what point do I need a specialist?

  • Tantrums get worse after the age of four
  • The behaviour occurs regularly, persists or appears to be getting worse
    o It is difficult to calm the child down after an outburst
  • They damage property, injure themselves or others
  • If your child’s behaviour is putting them or others at risk
  • During tantrums, they hold their breath, especially if they faint
  • They also have nightmares, reversal of toilet training, headaches, stomachaches, and anxiety; refuse to eat or go to bed; or cling to you
    o The behaviour leads to conflicts with parents, siblings, peers, or nursery school teachers
  • If you are worried that you may react to your child’s behaviour with physical punishment
Temper tantrums and agression in children - What is the difference?

How to prevent and act on:


  1. Teach your children how to express their feelings, both positive and negative.
  2. The more relaxed you feel, the more able you’ll be to respond calmly to reduce your child’s aggressive behaviour.
  3. Practice in assertiveness and problem-solving abilities also sets excellent examples. Remind the children that violence is unacceptable in the home or anywhere else.
  4. Having clear boundaries is essential, so make sure everyone consistently reinforces them.
  5. Provide a stable environment, and make sure you have a positive relationship with your child.
  6. Try to understand why your child is behaving aggressively. Did something happen at preschool?
  7. Praising your child as soon as you see them engaging in positive actions reinforces the behaviours you want to see.
  8. Introducing reward charts can be helpful as it reinforces the behaviours and helps celebrate success. They are usually more successful when they have pictures on which your child can put stickers.
  9. Consider creating a space in your home where you may relax or chill (some nursery school teachers also use this in preschool). Use a soft cushion and provide books, a stuffed animal, and some soft music in a place where others won’t disturb the child.


  1. Understand your child’s boundaries. Running one more errand or heading to the mall when your child is already exhausted is not a good idea.
  2. Understand and accept your child’s anger.
  3. Find something to distract them with right away. This could be a pet or something you can see out of the window.
  4. If you’ve said no, do not change your mind and say yes to end the tantrum. Otherwise, your child will start to think tantrums can get them what they want.
  5. For the same reason, it does not help to bribe them with sweets or treats.
  6. Wait for it to stop, and ignore the looks you get from people around you.
  7. Try tightly holding your kids until the tantrum is over. Put the children in a timeout by placing them on a special chair or in a corner for a brief period of time. Be close so you can keep an eye on them, but wait to engage until they are calm.
  8. Explain to your child that the sooner they remain quiet and peaceful, the sooner the timeout will end. You will let them know when it is over.
  9. If you’re at home, try going into another room for a while.
  10. Keep off-limits objects out of sight and out of reach, and keep shopping trips as short as possible.
  11. Losing your temper or shouting back will not end the tantrum.
  12. Talk to them. To help someone, you must first understand what worries them.
  13. Show them you love them, but not their behaviour. Get in the habit of catching your child being good. Give your child praise and attention as a reward for good behaviour.
  14. Find a big space, such as a park, and encourage your child to run and shout.
  15. Try to give toddlers some control over little things. Offer minor choices such as “Do you want to eat an apple or a pear?”
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