What’s behind those temper tantrums?

What’s behind temper tantrums? Scientists deconstruct the screams.

UnknownWe’ve all heard them. We’ve all ran from them. We’ve all been stuck in an airplane with them. What am I talking about? Temper tantrums. I’m not talking about the kind that adults have when they realize something doesn’t fit into their precise schedule, but the ones that kids have when …well…seemingly anything happens.

You would think that no one in their right mind would want to analyze the sounds made my screaming children, but that is exactly that Jams A. Green and his research staff did. It used to be thought that tantrums consisted of 2 stages: Screaming then Crying. But that’s not necessarily true. There is actually a rhythm to tantrums.

“Screaming and yelling and kicking often go together,” Potegal said. “Throwing things and pulling and pushing things tend to go together. Combinations of crying, whining, falling to the floor and seeking comfort — and these also hang together.”

So the anger and sadness are more or less simultaneous. You’ll usually find that the yelling and screaming are what start the tantrum followed by a period characterized by “physical actions.” After this, you’ll typically see the crying and whining period. And by this point, they’re most likely exhausted, and overall, the tantrum was probably no more than a minute (even though it may have felt like eternity).

Now let’s apply what this means because the goal we all want is to stop the tantrums. What do we do to stop them? Nothing. Absolutely nothing! (Check out the soundbite from NPR and video in the link at the top for more info on this). And the bigger goal besides just stopping the tantrums is for the kids (and parents) to learn how to self-regulate and to create a mutual sense of warmth and secure attachment.. If parents, caregiver or anyone comes in, it will just prolong the tantrum. See what the authors said about asking questions:

“You know, when children are at the peak of anger and they’re screaming and they’re kicking, probably asking questions might prolong that period of anger,” said Green. “It’s difficult for them to process information. And to respond to a question that the parent is asking them may be just adding more information into the system than they can really cope with.”

I’ll leave you with probably the best piece of advice that comes from this article:

“Studying them as scientific subjects rather than experiencing them like parents can cause the tantrums to stop feeling traumatic and even become interesting.”

Basically, stop experiencing the tantrums and start observing them. Will it make it more interesting? Try it out and let us know!

Related links:

Rubin Khoddam, PhD Clinical Psychology student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

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Categories: Articles, Child & Family, Quote Therapy, Videos

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3 replies


  2. How to become a more “Conscious Parent” « Psych Connection
  3. Kicking & Screaming

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