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(p. 105) On Being Mad, Sad, and Very Young 

(p. 105) On Being Mad, Sad, and Very Young
(p. 105) On Being Mad, Sad, and Very Young

Michael Potegal

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date: 09 August 2020

Up to 85% of young children in industrialized societies have tantrums. Anger peaks early in these outbursts, then declines. Distress/sadness behaviors remain relatively constant across the tantrum, but comfort-seeking accelerates toward the end, perhaps disinhibited by the anger decline. Distress always outlasts anger and can elicit parental comfort-giving, thus repairing social bonds broken by the child’s anger. Developmentally, tantrums become common around 18 months, perhaps reflecting the emergence of a neurodevelopmental program that anticipates struggles around weaning and independent mobility, as in contemporary forager/village cultures. Such a program might involve left hemisphere anger generation and right hemisphere distress. Mean tantrum frequencies range from 1–9/week, decreasing with age. Tantrum prevalence drops below 50% around 5–6 years. Tantrums may lengthen with age, perhaps morphing into adult anger episodes with a variable residue of distress. Tantrum severity increases in many medical and psychopathological conditions; roughly half of child psychiatry admissions involve severe tantrums.

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