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Isaacs, S. (1940). Temper Tantrums in Early Childhood in their Relation to Internal Objects. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 21:280-293.

(1940). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 21:280-293

Temper Tantrums in Early Childhood in their Relation to Internal Objects

Susan Isaacs

IN this paper I wish to discuss the phantasies and special mechanisms involved in 'temper tantrums', those manifestations of acute anxiety so often seen in children between one and five years. In these outbreaks, children are liable to scream violently, kick, stamp, hit and bite other people, hold their breath, stiffen the body, throw themselves on the floor, and struggle against all control. At the height of the attack the child appears to be deaf to the voice of reason, persuasion or command, and almost inaccessible to external influence.

It is very rarely that such attacks occur in a violent form in the actual work of child analysis, since we can usually read the signs of mounting anxiety and anticipate the worst by interpretation. But it is often possible to discern the particular phantasies which without interpretation would lead to tantrums, and to relate the analytic situation in these respects to the circumstances which actually provoke the tantrums, in the child's external life, as well as to his earlier experiences.

During the last few years, I have analysed several children who throw light on these phenomena, and have also had an adult patient whose behaviour on the couch at moments of extreme anxiety was extraordinarily like that of a child in a violent tantrum.

Objective studies of the frequency and distribution of tantrums have shown that they reach a high peak during the second year of life; they then gradually lessen in frequency until the sixth or seventh year, when they become comparatively rare in normal children. They appear to be a phenomenon of normal development, since they occur to some degree with all classes of children in all sorts of general circumstances, although some children in some circumstances are much more liable to such outbursts than others.

The immediate causes of such outbursts are very varied, but a study of all types of provoking situation seems to suggest one common element, viz., that the tantrum is a response to compulsion.

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