These Scientists Listened to 100 Temper Tantrums -- Here's What They Learned

We’ve all been there. It's time to leave the birthday party and he doesn't want to go. You try to get her to stop ripping open yet another cookie package at the grocery store. He doesn’t understand why he can't tear out the pages out of the library book. You see the mouth open, the cheeks redden, the limbs flail and there you have it -- a full-blown meltdown

The seemingly random outbursts of a temper tantrum are an unpleasant and unavoidable part of toddlerhood. Yet a new study published in the journal Emotion says that the sounds children make during a tantrum aren't random at all. When researchers analyzed the sound data of 100 tantrums taped from kids wearing specially wired onesies (not a job we envy), they found a specific pattern and rhythm to the throw-downs.

"Screaming and yelling and kicking often go together," study co-author Michael Potegal of the University of Minnesota told NPR. "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." And while earlier thinking suggested that a child progressed from initial sadness to anger during a tantrum, the researchers found that these two emotions actually occur simultaneously throughout the outburst.

The next time you're faced with a screaming kid in Aisle Three, consider this advice:

Do nothing when your child seems angriest
Temper tantrums tend to reach an anger peak, and trying to talk or reason with your child at this peak tends to prolong the misery and send their already overtaxed emotional system into a tailspin, study co-author James A. Green of the University of Connecticut, told NPR. So don’t ask questions, and definitely don’t yell back.

Keep it short
If you must communicate with your child mid-tantrum, issue brief commands like “sit down” or “go to your room.” Your child is too emotional to process complicated sentences or instructions.

Think like a scientist
“If you start to observe tantrums like scientists do, rather than experience them like parents do, they stop being traumatic. They even become interesting,” NPR reporter Shankar Vedantam said in his story. Staying calm will bring the tantrum to a conclusion quicker than if you get upset yourself. Easier said than done, of course. For 12 more tips on taming tantrums, click here.

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