Narrative Review: Impairing Emotional Outbursts: What They Are and What We Should Do About Them

Gabrielle A. Carlson, Manpreet K. Singh, Lisa Amaya-Jackson, Tami D. Benton, Robert R. Althoff, Christopher Bellonci, Jeff Q. Bostic, Jaclyn Datar Chua, Robert L. Findling, Cathryn A. Galanter, Ruth S. Gerson, Michael T. Sorter, Argyris Stringaris, James G. Waxmonsky, Jon M. McClellan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objective: Impairing emotional outbursts, defined by extreme anger or distress in response to relatively ordinary frustrations and disappointments, impact all mental health care systems, emergency departments, schools, and juvenile justice programs. However, the prevalence, outcome, and impact of outbursts are difficult to quantify because they are transdiagnostic and not explicitly defined by current diagnostic nosology. Research variably addresses outbursts under the rubrics of tantrums, anger, irritability, aggression, rage attacks, or emotional and behavioral dysregulation. Consistent methods for identifying and assessing impairing emotional outbursts across development or systems of care are lacking. Method: The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Presidential Task Force (2019-2021) conducted a narrative review addressing impairing emotional outbursts within the limitations of the existing literature and independent of diagnosis. Results: Extrapolating from the existing literature, best estimates suggest that outbursts occur in 4%-10% of community children (preschoolers through adolescents). Impairing emotional outbursts may respond to successful treatment of the primary disorder, especially for some children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder whose medications have been optimized. However, outbursts are generally multi-determined and often represent maladaptive or deficient coping strategies and responses. Conclusion: Evidence-based strategies are necessary to address factors that trigger, reinforce, or excuse the behaviors and to enhance problem-solving skills. Currently available interventions yield only modest effect sizes for treatment effect. More specific definitions and measures are needed to track and quantify outbursts and to design and assess the effectiveness of interventions. Better treatments are clearly needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-150
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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