Psychosocial Correlates of Severe Temper Tantrums

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Temper tantrums are common and distressing, but little epidemiological information is available about them. Attempts to identify psychosocial correlates of tantrums have used small samples and have not controlled for multiple concurrent behavior problems. We analyzed interviews from 502 English mothers of 3-year-olds. Tantrums were considered present if mothers reported tantrums three or more times a day or lasting 15 minutes or longer. Behavior problems were assessed using the Behavior Screening Questionnaire. Tantrums were reported in 6.8% of children, of whom 52% had multiple behavior problems. Factors independently associated with tantrums included maternal depression and irritability, low education, and use of corporal punishment, manual social class, marital stress, child care provided exclusively by the mother, and poor child health. Tantrums were not associated (at p < 0.01) with gender, maternal employment, low social support, or single parenthood. Severe tantrums may indicate the presence of multiple behavior problems and psychosocial stressors.

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