Child Psychology: When A Temper Tantrum Is Just A Temper Tantrum

The new edition of the DSM, modern psychiatry's bible for mental disorders, gives a medical diagnosis for what others just call bratty behavior. How parents can recognize the difference.

Scream and shout
Scream and shout
Soledad Aguado

BUENOS AIRES – Marina, a mother of a three-year-old, has a confession.

“When a restaurant doesn't have a kids menu with some kind of toy included, it's a big problem for me. Joaquín always starts to cry," she explains. The boy will often then wind up throwing himself on the floor, screaming and throwing things. "I don’t know how to stop people from seeing me as either a mother who is too strict or a mother who just crosses her arms and doesn’t know how to say “no” to her son," Marina says. "I don’t know how to deal with his tantrums."

It is true, that if tantrums become repetitive and uncontrollable with your child, it isn’t a bad idea to seek advice from a psychologist, a pediatrician or an expert in child development or parenting. Nevertheless, the American Psychiatric Association has catalogued tantrums in its DSM-5 manual as a “potential mental disorder in childhood” when irritability is persistent and these “burst of behavior” are repeated three or more times a week for more than a year.

The scientific name today for an old-fashioned tantrum is: “disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.”

In Argentina, psychologist Montserrat Ballvé Caride says: “Many professionals like myself ask ourselves if the criteria used to “pathologize” these behaviors respond to economic interests of certain laboratories. It is striking that upon every new “disorder,” a laboratory appears with a new numbing pill that makes us think it will cure people, when, in reality, it gives the impression that it only masks the symptoms, turning children into zombies and generating more problems than it solves”, Ballvé Caride says. “There is a dangerous trend in “pathologizing” childhood, calling certain reactions in children that come from human conditions and not sickness, as “disorders.”

She says the risk of medicating characteristics that are original to our species is a "normalization that approaches more the ideal of a machine than a human being.”

Regarding tantrums, Caride chooses to name it infantile angst or anxiety, where the child is attempting to communicate. “The content of the message is not universal and cannot be generalized: every child suffers in a unique way. Two options are then available for the adult: to ask what is happening to the kid and try to interpret the origin or cause of the angst; the other is to not ask themselves anything, and avoid the situation, which implies to tacitly stop listening,” she explains.

It is all about interpretation, trying to answer questions about the recurrent situation of angst: if the child was always this way, if it started after a particular event or change in the family or surroundings, or to consider how parents react when faced with the tantrums and in what context they happen. “You can also consult a professional or ask friends and family for advice on how to face the issue”, says Montserrat.

More and more, these consultations extend to the Internet, where parenting specialists like Silvia Solá offer advice. “When babies start to walk, tantrums begin, a new issue for parents to deal with. So then they come to us for help," she says. "Apart from the consultation, we suggest to parents to calm down in order to understand the message the child is trying to express, which doesn’t mean to enable the tantrum, but to understand what it is that he is trying to say.”

Who's in charge?

Tantrums tend to disarm adults, leaving them without any tools to face them. “The problem begins when the adult seeks barely-sustainable strategies and stops being an adult and the child doesn’t know where he stands,” says Solá.

These are age-old dilemmas for parents, but it is the new classification of the DSM-5 manual that is causing controversy. Psychologists from parenting institution Momento Cero, Adriana López and Emilia Canzutti weigh in on the categorization of tantrums as a pathology.

“It is necessary to attend a professional consultation only if the child has finished preschool and the tantrums persist even when parents have not yielded to them and they have understood the emotional situation of their child. If there is the need to medicate them, this should be determined by a professional, even though in our experience, we would advise it infrequently.”

At Momento Cero, psychologists say that tantrums are expected behaviors between two and four years, when the separation-individualization stage happens. “The “no’s” appear as a form to express their opinions and they want to exert their will with full force. Yet, they cannot express what they feel or think. Tantrums are a manifestation of non-conformity, frustration and lack of control,” says Canzutti. “If tantrums continue after the age of four, it is because parents have yielded to them too often. Then it might be necessary to seek professional consultation.”

López concludes: “Many times kids and parents have the feeling of loss of control. But we must always remember that we are the adults, so the child can accept what he must do or stop doing a certain thing.”

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Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.

Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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