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Temper Tantrums in Young Children: 2. Tantrum Duration and Temporal Organization

POTEGAL, MICHAEL PH.D., L.P.1; KOSOROK, MICHAEL R. PH.D.2; DAVIDSON, RICHARD J. PH.D.3

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: June 2003 - Volume 24 - Issue 3 - p 148–154
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This article completes the analysis of parental narratives of tantrums had by 335 children aged 18 to 60 months. Modal tantrum durations were 0.5 to 1 minute; 75% of the tantrums lasted 5 minutes or less. If the child stamped or dropped to the floor in the first 30 seconds, the tantrum was likely to be shorter and the likelihood of parental intervention less. A novel analysis of behavior probabilities that permitted grouping of tantrums of different durations converged with our previous statistically independent results to yield a model of tantrums as the expression of two independent but partially overlapping emotional and behavioral processes: Anger and Distress. Anger rises quickly, has its peak at or near the beginning of the tantrum, and declines thereafter. Crying and comfort-seeking, components of Distress, slowly increase in probability across the tantrum. This model indicates that tantrums can provide a window on the intense emotional processes of childhood. J Dev Behav Pediatr 24:148-154, 2003. Index terms: anger, crying, distress, emotion.

1 Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

2 Department of Biostatistics, University of Wisconsin, Madison

3 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: poteg001@umn.edu.

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.