Any parent of a toddler is very familiar with the kicking, screaming, and general chaos these tiny humans are capable of creating. Even people who aren’t parents have probably witnessed it at a grocery store or restaurant or some other public place. Toddlers have tantrums. It’s just a fact of life. “Many of the meltdowns children experience between about 9 and 30 months old arise from the frustration of not being able to communicate,” says pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene. “Their ideas far outstrip their language skills.” If you put yourself in those shoes – being upset about something but having no way to communicate it – the tantrums make more sense. But, sometimes tantrums are the result of something bigger and more concerning. Today we’re sharing some expert advice about toddler tantrums: when to worry.
Worry when there’s self-injurious behavior.
According to WebMD, “Kids with major depression and kids with mixed major depression and disruptive behavior were much more likely than healthy kids to bite themselves, scratch themselves, bang their heads against a wall, or kick objects in an attempt to hurt their foot.”
Worry when there’s extremely aggressive behavior.
According to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics, “When a toddler displays aggression directed at a caregiver or violently destructive behavior toward an object such as a toy during most tantrums, parents should be concerned. The study found that these children tend to have diagnoses of ADHD, oppositional-defiant disorder and other disruptive disorders.”
Worry when they meet the “3 P’s.”
The Child Mind Institute asked an expert about the issue. “As with any troubling behavior, Dr. Gabrielle Carlson of Stony Brook University explains, parents should worry about extreme outbursts when they meet her ‘3 Ps’ criteria: persistent, pervasive, and impairing. Yes, Dr. Carlson admits, ‘impairing” doesn’t start with a P, but it’s key to understanding when you need to get help.’”
Worry if it’s happening daily.
In at least one study, daily tantrums were not the norm. From the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health:
Distinguishing “normal” misbehaviors of early childhood from clinically worrisome problems can be challenging for pediatricians, parents, and others who work with young children.
To address this issue, Lauren Wakschlag, Ph.D., of Northwestern University, Margaret Briggs-Gowan, Ph.D., of University of Connecticut Health Center, and their colleagues examined temper loss among preschoolers as a spectrum of behaviors ranging from mild or normal to “problem indicators” that may be signs of a greater, underlying mental health issue.
For this study, the researchers developed the Multidimensional Assessment of Preschool Disruptive Behavior (MAP-DB) questionnaire. Rather than merely asking whether a child had tantrums or not, the MAP-DB assesses the frequency, quality, and severity of behaviors related to temper tantrums and the extent of a child’s anger management skills over the past month. Parents of almost 1,500 preschoolers, ages 3-5, took part in the study.
The researchers found that more than 80 percent of preschoolers had one or more tantrums in the past month. However, less than 10 percent had tantrums every day.
If your child fits into any of these buckets, you should probably seek professional help. But, at the same time, don’t be overly concerned about tantrums. “Tantrums are not bad behavior. Tantrums are an expression of emotion that became too much for the child to bear. No punishment is required. What your child needs is compassion and safe, loving arms to unload in.” – Rebecca Eanes, The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting
Yes – parenting is a tough journey. We know and we’re here to help!
Disclaimer: This blog is merely educational and not meant to replace professional advice. Consult your physician with any concerns.