December 5, 2011

Understanding Child’s Tantrum Could Improve Parenting Skills

New research suggests that a child's temper tantrum has a pattern and rhythm to it, which could help parents find ways to respond more effectively.

Researchers say that this pattern may help clinicians tell the difference between ordinary tantrums that are a part of a child's development, and those that may be warning signals of a disorder.

They said that the key to a new theory of tantrums lies in a detailed analysis of the sounds that toddlers make during the tantrums.

Scientist wrote in a paper published in the journal Emotion that different toddler sounds emerge and fade in definite rhythm in the course of a tantrum.

"We have the most quantitative theory of tantrums that has ever been developed in the history of humankind," study co-author Michael Potegal of the University of Minnesota said in a press release.

Co-author James A. Green of the University of Connecticut said that the first challenge for the scientists was to collect tantrum sounds.

He said that they developed an outfit for the children that had a high-quality wireless microphone sewn into it.

The microphone fed into a recorder that ran for several hours, and if a toddler started having a tantrum, researchers obtained a high-quality audio recording of it.

The team said that they had collected over a hundred tantrums in high-fidelity audio for the research.

After analyzing the audio, they found that different tantrum sounds had very distinct audio signatures.  When the sounds were laid down on a graph, the team found that different sounds emerged and faded in a definite pattern.

They found that the emissions of anger, which were represented by yells and screams, and sadness, which were represented by cries and whimpers, were deeply intertwined.

"The impression that tantrums have two stages is incorrect," Potegal said in a statement. "In fact, the anger and the sadness are more or less simultaneous."

They said that sad sounds tended to occur throughout tantrums, and were superimposed with sharp peaks of yelling and screaming.

Potegal said the trick was to get the child past the peaks of anger  He said once the child was past being angry, the saddened child will reach out for comfort.  They said the quickest way past the anger was to do nothing.

"Tantrums tend to often have this flow where the buildup is often quite quick to a peak of anger," Green said in a press release.

Green said that understanding that tantrums have a rhythm can not only help parents know when to intervene, but also give them a sense of control.


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