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Temper Tantrums

May 1, 2007

A listener asks: Why do kids have temper tantrums?


Why do kids throw fits? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Jie Schwan of San Jose, California, asked us why kids have temper tantrums. We turned to developmental psychologist Clancy Blair of Penn State. He says young kids who throw tantrums haven’t yet developed other mental tools for coping with an overwhelming emotion like frustration.

CLANCY BLAIR (Penn State):
We have to keep in mind that when a child’s having a tantrum—however offputting or irritating or disagreeable that might be—that’s a way of that child regulating that emotion.

As kids grow up, Blair says their maturing brains can develop more control over their emotions and impulses, and they can also learn more effective ways of communicating. But, he adds, they need the encouragement of adults to do so.

If you want the answer to a science question—don’t scream and cry. Call us at 1-800-why-isit. If we use it, you’ll win a Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.