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Although tantrums are among the most common behavioral problems of young children and may predict future antisocial behavior, little is known about them. To develop a model of this important phenomenon of early childhood, behaviors reported in parental narratives of the tantrums of 335 children aged 18 to 60 months were encoded as present or absent in consecutive 30-second periods. Principal Component (PC) analysis identified Anger and Distress as major, independent emotional and behavioral tantrum constituents. Anger-related behaviors formed PCs at three levels of intensity. High-intensity anger decreased with age, and low-intensity anger increased. Distress, the fourth PC, consisted of whining, crying, and comfort-seeking. Coping Style, the fifth PC, had high but opposite loadings on dropping down and running away, possibly reflecting the tendency to either "submit" or "escape." Model validity was indicated by significant correlations of the PCs with tantrum variables that were, by design, not included in the PC analysis.
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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.
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