Certain types of tantrums in preschoolers may be a sign of serious emotional or behavioral problems, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Although temper tantrums are common and normal in young children, the researchers found that long, frequent, violent and/or self-destructive tantrums may indicate the presence of psychiatric illness.
Researchers compared tantrums in healthy children to the tantrums in children diagnosed with depression or disruptive disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Most children have temper tantrums at some point, but the researchers found healthy children tend to be less aggressive and generally have shorter tantrums than their peers with depression and disruptive disorders. "It's clearly normal for young children to have occasional tantrums," says first author Andrew C. Belden, Ph.D., a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) post-doctoral research scholar in child psychiatry. "Healthy children may even display extreme behaviors if they're very tired or sick or hungry. But if a child is regularly engaging in specific types of tantrum behaviors, there may be a problem."
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