ages and stages
Measuring Meltdowns

Temper Tantrum Research Identifies New Behavioral Patterns And Potential Solutions

Now that wearable technology is officially coming for your kids, here’s a question: Why hasn’t anyone put that technology to good use? Sure, it’s awesome that your phone can tell you that the baby is still breathing and geo-fencing Junior is comforting, but wouldn’t it be cooler if tech could tell you something about tantrums? Thanks to a cleverly wired onesie and even more clever researchers at the University Of Minnesota, it did.

The researchers used the freak out-capturing toddler wear to gather audio from more than 100 tantrums, and what they found turned conventional wisdom about tantrums on its head. It turns out, long-held beliefs that a tantrum simply starts with fury and ends with sadness are incorrect. By searching for patterns in the data, they determined that sadness and anger seem to occur simultaneously, with specific behavior patterns and combinations aligning with each. Sadness, accompanied by whining, crying, and whimpering (one combination), continued from start to finish. Anger, with its screaming, yelling, and kicking (another combination) or throwing, pulling, and pushing things (another fun combo), arrived in punctuating peaks.

To help parents deal with tantrums, researchers combined their new finding — the simultaneous occurrence of sadness and anger — with an old belief: anger subsides faster than sadness. Therefore, reacting immediately to anger — a perfectly natural and reasonable inclination when your kid goes full human speed bump in the middle of Whole Foods because they’re out of cheddar bunnies — winds up creating a temper tantrum feedback loop. Sadness persists, but those peaks of anger keep coming the more you react and pay attention to them. Instead, the best way to calm your screaming kid is to starve the anger and feed the sadness. Let those peaks subside and then all you have to do is soothe a sad kid. That’s typically achieved with cuddles, which make for way more ‘grammable photos.

It’s worth noting that this is a theory based on audio recordings, and plenty of parents might object to applying data science to their precious snowflake. But Dr. Laura Markham is a certified Tantrum Ninja whose theories are based on dealing with actual toddlers, and the research jibes pretty well with how she thinks you should react when your kid melts down. Maybe that wearable tech really is good for something.

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