Kids’ Temper Tantrums Encompass a Range of Emotions

By: Brian Zahn ’13 (CLAS)

No one likes to hear a child cry, but one researcher at the University of Connecticut is listening intently.

Professor James A. Green, head of the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is analyzing acoustic and video recordings of infant and toddler temper tantrums in order to document the wide range of human emotions that are expressed when a child seems out of control.

Green hopes the recordings will help researchers better understand the different emotional stages that a child goes through during a tantrum and provide insight into how parent-child dynamics impact a toddler’s emotional development. While tantrums are normative for toddlers between the ages of 18 months and 4 years, high rates of tantrums and tantrums that continue into later ages have been associated with future antisocial behavior and psychopathology.

In his most recent research, which was published in the scientific journal Emotion in October, Green collected recordings of toddlers screaming, yelling, crying, and whining during tantrums in order to study how small children express and regulate strong emotions and to see whether certain parental interactions are more effective than others at curtailing outbursts.

In the study, Green teamed up with University of Minnesota professor Michael Potegal, a pediatric neuroscientist who served as the co-principal investigator, and Pamela Whitney, a UConn graduate student, in order to categorize 2,400 different sounds from 20 different tantrums. Potegal brought a portable studio with both audio and visual recording equipment to the homes of the 13 toddlers who participated in the study. The parents dressed their children in outfits equipped with microphones and would record their 2- to 3-year-olds playing with them for extended periods. If the child had a tantrum, the parents were instructed to turn off the recording devices once the tantrum was over and to contact a researcher. Afterward, the parents also filled out a questionnaire eliciting further details about their interactions with their child during the tantrum.

Read more at UConn Today.

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