Date of Completion


Embargo Period



temper tantrums, toddlers, language, self-regulation, development, individual differences

Major Advisor

James A. Green

Associate Advisor

Gwen E. Gustafson

Associate Advisor

Rhiannon Smith

Associate Advisor

Inge-Marie Eigsti

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


The purpose of the current research was to investigate temper tantrums in toddlers using a short-term longitudinal design. We sought to examine individual differences across time in tantrum behavior and explore possible predictors, specifically: expressive language, self-regulation skills, and parental behavior. Previous literature has implicated both expressive language and self-regulatory skills as playing an influential role in tantrum behavior, but there has been little empirical support. Parents of children between 24 and 27 months (n = 100) completed surveys on their child’s tantrum behavior, self-regulation skills, and expressive language. They were also asked to report on their own strategies during the tantrums. Three months later, when children were between 27 and 30 months, parents filled out identical surveys (n = 55). Tantrum behaviors reported by parents matched those previously found by other researchers, but expressive language was not a significant predictor of tantrum frequency or duration. Some regulatory skills, specifically propensity to frustration and soothability, were predictive of tantrum outcomes. Comparisons between the two time points showed consistency of individual differences, and both expressive language and inhibitory control increased over age, reflecting the expected growth during this time frame. Additionally, parent behaviors during tantrums, especially turning and walking away, picking up and holding, speaking soothingly, making commands, and offering rewards, predicted different aspects of tantrums. Tantrum behavior is most likely the result of a combination of child characteristics, the situation and cause of the tantrum, and parent behavior.