You know that toddler tantrums are normal, but what about older children? Here’s what you need to know about handing five year old tantrums.
You found your way to this page with this common concern:
Do five year olds still have tantrums?
If you’re grappling with your child’s explosive behavior, you can know you are not alone. Both of my older two children had tantrums when they were five years old.
I have been the parent carrying a screaming big kid out of Target at Christmas time. One of my children flung themselves on the floor for writing the capital letter E incorrectly.
Many parents have a five year old who is struggling with tantrums, too.
So read on and find out what are typical five year old tantrums and when you should be concerned. Plus gather a few more strategies for helping your five year old cope with their big feelings.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. For more information, read here.
Is it normal for my five year old to have tantrums?
Yes, it is normal for five year olds to have tantrums. Five year old children are still developing and don’t have the same brain development as adults.
Little children get overwhelmed by their big emotions. And that is really typical.
Emotional regulation is the ability to handle big feelings in a socially appropriate and functional way. This is a skill that children learn over time.
And truthfully, many adults struggle with emotional regulation at times, too. Have you seen adults at the airport when their flight is delayed?
A lot of adults struggle with temper tantrums when things aren’t going their way.
Why does my five year old have tantrums?
It’s important to understand the brain is a construction zone until about 25 years old. The parts of your brain responsible for impulse control are not developed in your five-year-old child.
Five year olds have tantrums because they do not have the cognitive skills to think proactively about their problem.
- Related: Teach Your Child to Stay Calm
Spilling milk seems like a catastrophe because they cannot yet logically understand that it’s a small, solvable problem. They do not have enough life experience to understand they just need to wipe up the spill and pour another glass.
Instead, your child feels like they have lost their milk forever. They are swept up by the overwhelm from that emotion.
Simply, five year old children have tantrums because they need more time for their brain to develop better strategies.
How many tantrums a day is normal for a five year old?
Typical five year olds have fewer tantrums than toddlers. So the average number of tantrums a day that is normal for a five year old is less than one.
This means if your five year old is having more than one tantrum a day, it could be a cause for concern. However, if your five year old child is tantruming less frequently – like a couple times a week – it could be normal.
You might be wondering, “When should I worry about my five year old’s tantrums?” So let’s go over the basics.
When should I worry about five year old tantrums?
While five year old tantrums are normal, there are reasons for parents and caregivers to worry.
Five year old tantrums are a concern when the duration, frequency, and intensity of the tantrum exceeds the tantrums of their peers:
- Duration: how long does the tantrum last?
- Frequency: how often are tantrums occurring?
- Intensity: how extreme are the tantrums? Is it just whining or is it aggressive?
So here are the rules of thumb about when to worry about five year old tantrums:
- Duration: the tantrum routinely lasts longer than a few minutes
- Frequency: tantrums happens daily or multiple times a day
- Intensity: the tantrum includes aggression, self-harm, or property destruction.
Certain other behaviors during tantrums are a cause for concern:
- Holding breath
- Getting headaches or stomachaches
- Increased anxiety overall
If your five-year old has tantrums like this, it’s time to speak with your child’s medical provider. Consider asking for a referral to a psychologist who does developmental or behavioral evaluations.
As a parent of neurodivergent children, do not be afraid to seek help because of fear of labels. The purpose of the label is access to help; your child’s struggles do not encompass their whole identity or value.
My five year old had a tantrum when told no
It’s pretty common to hear that five year olds have tantrums when they are told no.
A lot of parents say children tantrum just to get their own way. The implication is that these children are manipulative.
But consider this:
Do you want to get your own way? Do you want your child to do whatever you’ve asked him to do?
It’s human nature to want to get our way – so there is nothing wrong with it. Your child is not morally deficient or manipulative because they express a need or a want.
Instead, if your five year old tantrums when they are told no, it means they need help developing a better coping strategy for how to manage disappointment.
Again, let’s remember our example of adults in the airport when their flight is canceled. Many adults have a hard time with their disappointment when they don’t get their way (getting where they’re going on time).
Other common reasons children tantrum when told no:
- Your child cannot think flexibly about a solution
- Your child has trouble transitioning from their plan to a new plan
In short, five year olds have tantrums when they are told no because they don’t have the skills to solve their problem in a productive manner.
My five-year-old has a tantrum at bedtime
Bedtime is hard. It’s the longest period of the day when a child is separated from a parent.
Try to take your child’s perspective for a second:
You’re expected to be alone, in the dark, with an incredibly active imagination for 10-12 hours.
Yep, it’s not fun. It provokes anxiety for the most even-tempered children.
If you find your child is consistently having tantrums at bedtime, it’s time for two things:
- Have a conversation about bedtime with your child.
- Revisit your bedtime routine
Talk about Bedtime Tantrums
Try talking to your five year old about why bedtime is so challenging. Use neutral language so your child doesn’t get defensive.
Most likely, your child will say, “I don’t know,” when you ask why your child is having a hard time with bedtime. So make educated guesses.
I like to start with really basic things like the physical items involved in the bedtime routine.
Your conversation can go something like this:
- Parent: “Hey, I’ve noticed that bedtime has been tricky lately. What’s going on?”
- Child: “I don’t know.”
- Parent: “Hmmm. I’m wondering if it’s your sheets. Do you not like the sheets on your bed?”
- Child: “No that’s not it.”
- Parent: “What about the pajamas. Are you having a problem with your pajamas?
- Child: “No.”
- Parent: “Okay, is it hard to stop playing when it’s time to get pajamas on?”
- Child: “Yes. I want to keep playing.”
So this child is having a hard time with the transition away from playing into winding down for the night. That means the child needs a consistent warning or other strategies for how to transition better.
Once you can drill down into what the hard part about bedtime is, it can give you insight into how to deal with the tantrum.
Routine to Prevent Bedtime Tantrums
From personal experience, a lot of bedtime tantrums come from a lack of strong bedtime routine. Every time my husband and I slack off on the routine, it causes problems in our family.
Your child needs a solid bedtime routine in order to feel confident and grounded before bed.
Knowing the plan and having a parent follow the plan in a consistent and confident manner reduces anxiety for a lot of children.
Common Reasons for Tantrums
The main reason children (and adults) have tantrums is they have lagging social and emotional skills. They don’t have the tools they need to deal with challenging situations.
Here’s a quick overview of reasons your five year old could be having a tantrum:
- trouble with stating concerns
- difficulty with thinking of solutions
- struggles to think flexibly about situations
- difficulty with changes to routines
- difficulty with the transition from one activity to another
- struggles to manage disappointment
- excessive worry or anxiety
One thing you’ll notice is that this list doesn’t include “manipulating adults.”
When we can switch to thinking about tantrums as simply a clue that children need help building their skills, we can move from judging a behavior into problem-solving mode.
How do I deal with five year old tantrums?
So now you’re wondering, “this is great, but how do I deal with these tantrums?” All parents want a quick fix, but eliminating tantrums and helping your child grow emotionally takes time.
The truth is for a real, long-term solution you need to address the underlying skills that are causing the tantrums.
Helping your child learn to cope with anxiety looks a lot different than generating a list of possible solutions. So these are the four steps you’ll go through to deal with tantrums:
- Observe the tantrum
- Collect data
- Identify the triggers
- Build skills to prevent the tantrums
Observe the tantrum
You are going to put on your scientist hat to observe the tantrums. Remain emotionally detached and take an outsider view of what is going on.
Initially, you don’t need to intervene or calm your child unless this is a situation where someone is about to get hurt. Once you’ve observed the tantrum enough, you can help your child settle down.
I said you were going to be a scientist, so you need to do a little data collection.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen. The next time your child has a tantrum:
- Write the date and time.
- Record what event happened before the tantrum.
- Write down what the tantrum was about.
- Record the duration and intensity.
Do this for about two weeks or until you have about 7-10 tantrums.
Identify the triggers
Look at the data you collected. Patterns should begin to emerge for the triggers and the unmastered behavioral skills.
You could notice the tantrums are:
- occurring at a specific time of day
- caused by the same trigger
- happen at various times and in different situations but are due to the same unmastered skill (like being flexible).
Reducing the triggers is one way you can prevent tantrums. But ultimately children need skills to manage their triggers.
Build Skills to Prevent Tantrums
In order to prevent tantrums, you need to actively work with your child to build their unmastered behavioral skills. The best way to do this is through problem-solving with your child.
Get yourself a copy of one of these two books by Ross Greene:
- The Explosive Child for children with more extreme behaviors
- Raising Human Beings for children with more typical behaviors
While you learn better strategies for problem-solving with your child, try some quick hacks to prevent tantrums.
While this remains a long game, here are four ways you can build skills to start preventing tantrums today:
Use Visual Charts
For children who are quick to anger, using a visual like this anger chart can help them. They will get a sense of what anger feels like in their body and when to intervene.
Develop Emotional Intelligence
Help your children have a deep understanding of their emotions. This is emotional intelligence.
Make learning about emotions part of the daily routine. You can read children’s books to build emotional skills in your child as well. Seeing a character struggle with their big emotions develops a child’s emotional intelligence.
Reflect with Drawing
One of the most powerful ways you can prevent tantrums is to teach your child to reflect on their own behavior. The easiest way children can do this is with drawing.
Grab these printables and dozens more in the Social Emotional Learning at Home Printable Pack.
Teaching your child to harness the power of deep breathing is super helpful. But it’s never going to work if you try to teach your child do breath deeply during a tantrum.
So you can grab some structured breathing practice with the Breathing Task Cards.
Recapping Five Year Old Tantrums
Here’s what overwhelmed parents need to know
- It is normal for five year olds to have occasional tantrums.
- Five year olds have tantrums because their brain is still developing.
- They don’t have the impulse control to think calmly and proactively about solutions.
- Parents should worry when tantrums are aggressive, frequent, and long.
- Do not be afraid to reach out to your child’s pediatrician and see a psychologist.
- Everyone wants to get their own way – including parents. Your child is not manipulative.
- Children who have tantrums at bedtime likely need more support for anxiety or transitions.
- To eliminate tantrums, you need to identify the triggers and the weak behavioral skills.
- Teach strong emotional skills with visual charts, reading children’s books, and reflecting with drawing.
It’s really tough to parent a big kid through their tantrums. So be compassionate with yourself.
The tantrums are not a reflection of your ability to parent your child – it shows you that your child needs stronger emotional and behavioral skills.
Problem-solving proactively with your child is the best long-term solution, but you can also use visual charts and printable reflection pages to help your children build their skills.
Grab this free calming strategy printable to have another tool for your five-year old.