Temper tantrums are sudden, overt negative emotional displays that are disproportionate to the eliciting event. Research supports that severe temper tantrums during the preschool period are associated with preschool psychopathology, but few studies have identified which characteristics of preschool tantrums are predictive of distal psychopathological outcomes in later childhood and adolescence. To examine this question, we used a prospective, longitudinal dataset enriched for early psychopathology. Participants (N = 299) included 3-to 6-year-old children (47.8% female) assessed for tantrums and early childhood psychopathology using diagnostic interviews and then continually assessed using diagnostic interviews over 10 subsequent time points throughout childhood and adolescence. We identified two unique groupings of tantrum behaviors: aggression towards others/objects (e.g., hitting others) and aggression towards self (e.g., hitting self). While both types of tantrum behaviors were associated with early childhood psychopathology severity, tantrum behaviors characterized by aggression towards self were more predictive of later psychopathology. Children displaying high levels of both types of tantrum behaviors had more severe externalizing problems during early childhood and more severe depression and oppositional defiant disorder across childhood and adolescence. Findings suggest that tantrum behaviors characterized by aggression towards self are particularly predictive of later psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • aggression
  • early childhood
  • longitudinal course
  • self-injurious behaviors
  • temper tantrums


Dive into the research topics of 'Developmental pathways from preschool temper tantrums to later psychopathology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this