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Temper Tantrums in Young Children: 1. Behavioral Composition


Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: June 2003 - Volume 24 - Issue 3 - p 140–147
Original Articles

Although tantrums are among the most common behavioral problems of young children and may predict future antisocial behavior, little is known about them. To develop a model of this important phenomenon of early childhood, behaviors reported in parental narratives of the tantrums of 335 children aged 18 to 60 months were encoded as present or absent in consecutive 30-second periods. Principal Component (PC) analysis identified Anger and Distress as major, independent emotional and behavioral tantrum constituents. Anger-related behaviors formed PCs at three levels of intensity. High-intensity anger decreased with age, and low-intensity anger increased. Distress, the fourth PC, consisted of whining, crying, and comfort-seeking. Coping Style, the fifth PC, had high but opposite loadings on dropping down and running away, possibly reflecting the tendency to either “submit” or “escape.” Model validity was indicated by significant correlations of the PCs with tantrum variables that were, by design, not included in the PC analysis. J Dev Behav Pediatr 24:140-147, 2003. Index terms: anger, crying, distress, emotion.

Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin

Received May 2001; accepted November 2002.

Address for reprints: Michael Potegal, Ph.D., L.P., Division of Pediatric Neurology, Mayo Mail Code 486, Fairview-University of Minnesota Health Center, 420 Delaware St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455-0392; e-mail:

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.