Relations between toddler expressive language and temper tantrums in a community sample

Brittany L. Manning, Megan Y. Roberts, Christopher Ryne Estabrook, Amélie Petitclerc, James L. Burns, Margaret Briggs-Gowan, Lauren S. Wakschlag, Elizabeth S. Norton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This study examined the frequent clinical observation that toddlers with less expressive language have more severe temper tantrums. A representative sample of 2001 mothers reported on their toddler's expressive vocabulary and frequency of different temper tantrum behaviors, a prominent feature of irritability and an emergent marker of mental health risk. Results revealed that 12- to 38-month-olds with fewer spoken words demonstrated more severe (frequent and dysregulated) temper tantrums. Toddlers who were late talkers at 24–30 months also had more severe tantrums; their relative risk of having severe tantrums was 1.96 times greater than peers with typical language. These results are the first to show that language and temper tantrums are related, and that this relation is present in the second year of life. These findings point to the importance of assessing both language and mental health risk in order to promote earlier identification and intervention for early childhood disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101070
JournalJournal of Applied Developmental Psychology
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • Early childhood
  • Expressive language
  • Irritability
  • Language delay
  • Mental health
  • Temper tantrums

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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