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Excessive Tantrums: A


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Excessive Tantrums: A sign of serious mental health problems? Page #2

The first behavior of concern is when children become extremely aggressive during a tantrum.  Whenever a toddler displays aggression directed toward a caregiver or violently destructive behavior directed toward something such as a toy during their tantrums, this should be a sign of concern to the parent.  The study concluded that these children tend to have a diagnosis of ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder or other disruptive disorders. 

A second behavior of concern noted by the researchers is when children exhibit self-destructive behaviors such as scratching until their skin begins to bleed, biting themselves or banging their head. 

Dr. Belden stated that "it doesn't matter how long these types of tantrums last or how often they occur, self injurious behavior almost always was associated with a psychiatric diagnoses in this study."  Dr. Belden went on to say "Children with major depressive disorder tended to hurt themselves.  We didn't see that in normal kids or those with ADHD and other disruptive disorders.  It really surprised us that this type of behavior was emerging at such a young age." 


Another behavior of concern is when children have more than five tantrums a day for several consecutive days.  When children have very long tantrums that is a definite concern.  Normal children seem to have tantrums of 10 or 11 minutes while he was found in the study that those with disruptive disorders average more than 25 minutes per episode. 

Finally, when children were unable to calm themselves after a tantrum episode, they appeared to be at much higher risk for future psychiatric disorders.  Dr. Belden stated that "If a child is having tantrums and parents always have to bribe the child with cookies or other rewards to calm him or her down, this may be something more serious than normal toddler volatility." 

Researchers have stated that it is important to replicate these findings in future studies of other children, and also to classify the types of behavior that may be considered to be problematic in a more rigorous fashion.  While this study relied upon parent reports of children's tantrum behavior, future studies may include video analysis. 

Dr. Belden became interested in tantrum behavior when observing the different tantrum styles displayed for each of his two children.  He stated that parents should usually not be worried when their children have tantrums but should pay attention to the behavior exhibited during the tantrum.  He concluded in stating that "The best news from this paper is that it's normal for children to display excessive behavior sometimes."  He went on to say that "If a child lashes out at you, it doesn't mean, ‘oh my gosh!  They're doomed’ but if they lash out and hit you every time, there might be a problem.  And if they hurt themselves intentionally, I think it's best to consult a pediatrician or mental health professional."

Information adapted from a report titled Excessive Tantrums In Preschoolers May Indicate Serious Mental Health Problems. ScienceDaily (December 19, 2007)

Additional information and webpage by Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist Ph.D Candidate (Health Psychology  

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