Children who have long, frequent or aggressive temper tantrums may be at risk of depression or disruptive disorders, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.
They said tantrums were often the sign of a sick, hungry or overstimulated child. For most parents, they were a normal part of development and should be viewed as a teaching opportunity.
But parents of children who hurt themselves or others and those who cannot calm themselves without help should seek medical help, they found. Healthy children tended to have less aggressive, and generally shorter tantrums.
“I think parents to some degree should expect their children to have tantrums,” said Dr. Andy Belden of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, whose study appeared in the Journal of Pediatrics.
“If they are having extreme tantrums consistently. If almost every time they are having a tantrum they are hurting themselves or other people, that is a valid reason to go and talk to your pediatrician,” Belden said in a telephone interview.
His team analyzed parent reports of tantrum behaviors in 279 children aged 3 to 6. They compared tantrums in healthy children with those in children previously diagnosed with depression or some type of disruptive disorder, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or oppositional defiant disorder.
From their observations, Belden’s team devised five high-risk tantrum styles: Tantrums marked by self injury; tantrums marked by violence to others or objects; tantrums in which children cannot calm themselves without help; tantrums lasting more than 25 minutes; and tantrums occurring more than 5 times a day, or between 10 and 20 times a month.
Of those, Belden said tantrums in which children harm themselves were most often associated with depression and should be considered very serious.
He said any of those high-risk behaviors would warrant a call to the doctor.
“If it gets to the point where the parent is uncomfortable leaving the house because they are so fearful their child will have tantrum, that should be a sign to the parent (to seek help)” he said.