Scientists have now revealed that children’s temper tantrums can be analyzed, as having a pattern and rhythm of their own that, when understood, may help many a long-suffering parent or teacher.
While tantrums generally involve shouting, kicking, screaming, crying and whining, a new study, published in journal Emotion, looked at the noises a child makes when going through a temper attack.
Co-author James A. Green of the University of Connecticut explained to NPR that the researchers developed a specially-modified onesie, with a microphone sewn to the fabric.
Parents dressed their children in the suits, then recordings of all of the child’s noises were collected over the next few hours – including tantrums, if they unfolded.
After collecting around 100 tantrum recordings, the team was able to analyze sounds and build up “the most quantitative theory of tantrums that has ever been developed in the history of humankind”, co-author Michael Potegal of the University of Minnesota told the station.
Results indicated a definite pattern of various audio signatures, revealing that tantrums are a complex mixture of simultaneous emotions, including sadness and anger.
“The impression that tantrums have two stages is incorrect,” said Michael Potegal, referencing the common, and now outdated, impression that attacks begin with shouts and anger and end in crying and sadness.
The picture is rather more complicated. “In fact, the anger and the sadness are more or less simultaneous.”
The team found that there are certain sounds that often go hand-in-hand. “Screaming and yelling and kicking often go together,” said Michael Potegal.
“Throwing things and pulling and pushing things tend to go together. Combinations of crying, whining, falling to the floor and seeking comfort – these also hang together.”
The trick, the co-authors say, is to avoid the “anger trap” by letting the storm melt away of its own accord, and simply do nothing.
Luckily, though, getting to that stage is rarely a long affair. James A. Green explained: “Tantrums tend to often have this flow where the build up is often quite quick to a peak of anger.”
Trying to help by asking questions will only add to the build up.
“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,” James A. Green said.
“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.”
Once the peak of anger has been reached, the tantrum’s ebb is, thankfully, in view.
While there are families far and wide who could surely add data to the study, it’s hoped that the new findings may allow some parents to foster a sense of control when it comes to weathering out temper tantrums.