Scientists Discover How to End a Toddler Tantrum as Quickly as Possible

Family Matters on 12.05.11
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Photo: Toni Gregory / Creative Commons

Warning: if you are sensitive to tantrums, this video contains graphic footage of a toddler freaking out. You will be stunned to learn that the tantrum only lasts a minute. It seems much, much longer. The bright spot is the hilariously calm scientific commentary droning over top the toddler’s hysterics.

According to NPR's Health Blog, a tantrum has distinct parts.

1.       Yelling, screaming, kicking.

2.       Physical actions, such as throwing things or banging objects.

3.       Crying and whining, falling to the floor, seeking comfort.

Scientists Michael Potegal and James A. Green studied tantrums in detail. Let me pause to say that this is the worst job in the world. These scientists subjected themselves to more than 100 toddler tantrums on purpose. That flies in the face of human nature. These are brave scientists indeed.

Back to the study: The scientists say a tantrum consists of two distinct emotions, anger and sadness. The tantrum will kick off with angry shrieking and then devolve into sadness and crying. It's possible for both angry sounds (screams) and sad sounds (cries) to occur throughout the length of the tantrum. The toddler will start out angry and screeching - lovely - and then become more sad, demonstrated by crying, as the tantrum winds down.

And there's the advice you've been waiting for:

The trick in getting a tantrum to end as soon as possible, Potegal said, was to get the child past the peaks of anger. Once the child was past being angry, what was left was sadness, and sad children reach out for comfort. The quickest way past the anger, the scientists said, was to do nothing. Of course, that isn't easy for parents or caregivers to do.

"When I'm advising people about anger, I say, 'There's an anger trap,"' Potegal said.

Even asking questions can prolong the anger - and the tantrum.

Green suggests studying your child's tantrums to learn A) how long to retreat while your toddler is angry, and B) at what point the best opportunity arises to begin interacting with the child again.

Another benefit Green cites of looking at tantrums scientifically: they become less traumatic for parents.

Top Articles on Tantrums:
Top Tips for Dealing With Tantrums. The Terrible Twos Are Awesome.
Hysterical Video of Overdramatic Toddler is a Lesson in Dealing with Tantrums
Seriously, How Long Can a Toddler Cry For?