Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Taming the Tantrum: One Hi-Fi Onesie at a Time

New research has uncovered the secret to stopping children's temper tantrums.


This advice arrives just in time for those pre-holiday throw-downs in the toy aisle.  Take heed, this knowledge might just make the wait in the line for Santa more bearable.  Researcher Michael Poteg of the University of Minnesota doesn't merely possess the secret, he's got the whole tantrum thing covered or uncovered as he reported in an NPR interview:
We have the most quantitative theory of tantrums that has ever been developed in the history of humankind.  NPR, What's Behind A Temper Tantrum? Scientists Deconstruct The Screams.
He uttered "half in jest" according to NPR.  Humor probably helped convince parents to suit up their children in wired onsies so Poteg and friends could track the anatomy of bad behavior and ultimately publish what might become the codex of temper tantrums.

Here's what this ground-breaking scientific inquiry revealed: 

Results indicated that perceptually categorized screaming, yelling, crying, whining, and fussing each have distinct acoustic features. Screaming and yelling form a group with similar acoustic features while crying, whining, and fussing form a second acoustically related group. Within these groups, screaming may reflect a higher intensity of anger than yelling while fussing, whining, and crying may reflect an increasing intensity of sadness.  Abstract from Psych Info
In other words:

Yelling, Screaming, Kicking  =   Pissed
Fussing,Whining, Crying       =   Sad

Just what like your mother and grandmother told you.  Wait out of the anger (see above).  No sarcastic comments.  No pleas for rational behavior.  No questions. Do you want to ever watch SpongeBob again? Do you really want to miss the Smurfs? Do you think all these people appreciate you disrupting their dinner? After the anger (see above) subsides, try comforting to combat the sads (see above). 

I guess the news coverage gets parents thinking about how and when to stem the bad behavior, not so awful.  But honestly, just how much does a hi-fi onesie go for?

Reference: Screaming, yelling, whining, and crying: Categorical and intensity differences in vocal expressions of anger and sadness in children's tantrums. Green, James A.; Whitney, Pamela G.; Potegal, Michael.  Emotion, Vol 11(5), Oct 2011, 1124-1133. doi: 10.1037/a0024173

7 comments:

JuliesMum said...

Blimey, talk about intrepid research. Think I'd rather study hissing cockroaches than toddler tantrums. But as far as I remember from my children's time in nursery, most of the staff there could have told him this for free.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hey JM! Sometimes researchers reveal intriguing insights or elucidate complexities Of course some, like this, state the obvious. It can be argued that the findings here further contribute to the understanding of children's emotional responses. Hhhhmmm....

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Can I co-opt "blimey" for my next post? I cannot wait to add it to my other Brit faves such as wanker and mutton dressed as lamb.

Nei Pori said...

I'll just add that women have more developed ability to hear high pitched sound since it is kind babies makes. Lucky me :)

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hi NP! So that explains why I could hear my children cry whilst hubby slept, well, like a baby! Good point!

Awesome Mom said...

I heard a snippet of this interview while getting the kids from school and while it is pretty much a duh conclusion it did get me thinking about how I interact with my kids when they are having a tantrum. I have found that issuing commands to my two year old does actually work a lot better than asking him what he wants or why he is upset. This morning I ended up having him stomping his feet and crying but he would hold my hand when I told him to while we were on a morning walk.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Love this "real life" application of research, Awesome! Glad you've figured out how to circumvent the full-on tantrum. I distinctly remember the moment when I realized my child couldn't stop it herself - actually she reached out to me for a big hug. One of those AHA moments that wasn't really addressed in the "wait it out" or ignore it advice.