Defining the developmental parameters of temper loss in young children: Implications for developmental psychopathology

Department of Medical Social Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Boston, MA Department of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, CT Section on Bipolar Spectrum Disorders, Emotion & Development Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health & Human Services, Bethesda, MD.
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 6.46). 08/2012; 53(11):1099-108. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2012.02595.x
Source: PubMed


Temper modulation problems are both a hallmark of early childhood and a common mental health concern. Thus, characterizing specific behavioral manifestations of temper loss along a dimension from normative misbehaviors to clinically significant problems is an important step toward identifying clinical thresholds.

Parent-reported patterns of temper loss were delineated in a diverse community sample of preschoolers (n = 1,490). A developmentally sensitive questionnaire, the Multidimensional Assessment of Preschool Disruptive Behavior (MAP-DB), was used to assess temper loss in terms of tantrum features and anger regulation. Specific aims were: (a) document the normative distribution of temper loss in preschoolers from normative misbehaviors to clinically concerning temper loss behaviors, and test for sociodemographic differences; (b) use Item Response Theory (IRT) to model a Temper Loss dimension; and (c) examine associations of temper loss and concurrent emotional and behavioral problems.

Across sociodemographic subgroups, a unidimensional Temper Loss model fit the data well. Nearly all (83.7%) preschoolers had tantrums sometimes but only 8.6% had daily tantrums. Normative misbehaviors occurred more frequently than clinically concerning temper loss behaviors. Milder behaviors tended to reflect frustration in expectable contexts, whereas clinically concerning problem indicators were unpredictable, prolonged, and/or destructive. In multivariate models, Temper Loss was associated with emotional and behavioral problems.

Parent reports on a developmentally informed questionnaire, administered to a large and diverse sample, distinguished normative and problematic manifestations of preschool temper loss. A developmental, dimensional approach shows promise for elucidating the boundaries between normative early childhood temper loss and emergent psychopathology.

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Available from: Seung W Choi, Oct 09, 2015
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    • "In fact, misbehavior co-occurring with significant child distress and/or anger is common, particularly in preschool age children (i.e. temper tantrums) (Giesbrecht, Miller, & Muller, 2010; Wakschlag et al. 2012). "
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    • "The majority of earlier studies on young children have reported broader behavioural dimensions. Although they have supported that symptoms of psychopathology may manifest during early preschool age [7, 8, 21, 47], there has been little diagnostic specificity in the study of continuity of symptoms in previous studies. "
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    • "In contrast, the correlation of High Anger in TR with parental report of anger and the stronger correlation of High Anger with low inhibitory control suggest that more intense anger is maladaptive. The association of excessive anger with childhood psychopathology (e.g., Belden et al., 2008; Wakschlag et al., 2010, 2012) supports this idea. The TR Distress cluster includes cry and down, as it does for tantrums (Potegal & Qiu, 2010). "
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