Study analyses children's tantrums

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Children's temper tantrums have the same pattern and rhythm to them, and when understood can help practitioners and parents to calm down children, suggests a new study.

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According to researchers from University of Connecticut and Minnesota, children’s tantrums are a ‘complex mixture’ of emotions that commonly follow a specific rhythm with recognisable peaks and dips.

Their study, which is based on the analysis of 100 recordings of the sounds made during children’s tantrums, challenges the common belief that temper tantrums have two stages, anger (yells and screams) and sadness (cries and whimpers).

Instead, they refer to three stages. The first stage they call the yelling and screaming phase, the second ‘physical actions’, and the third stage involves crying and whining.

To capture the sounds of children’s tantrums as they occurred, the researchers developed a special ‘onesie’(all-in-one) with an attached microphone, which children wore for a few hours.
The sounds revealed that children experience sadness throughout a tantrum interrupted by intense episodes of anger, such as yelling and screaming.

Michael Potegal from the University of Minnesota, a co-author of the study, said, ‘Screaming and yelling and kicking often go together during a tantrum, as do throwing things and pulling and pushing things. It is common to see combinations of crying, whining, falling to the floor and seeking comfort.’

In light of the findings, the researchers advise practitioners and parents to ignore children during a tantrum until it subsides, after which point they should comfort children who are likely to feel sad.

The study, Screaming, yelling, whining, and crying: Categorical and intensity differences in vocal expressions of anger and sadness in children's tantrums’, is published in the journal Emotion.

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