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New Study Links Toddler Tantrums to Mental Disorders

Screaming Toddler
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Tantrums. Pretty much every child has them, and every parent deals with them. But often times you can't quite pinpoint exactly what set little Johnny off. Now, a new study may offer answers for some parents, linking tantrums with depression and even psychiatric disorders in young children.

Researchers at the Duke University Medical Center said that toddlers who threw frequent, violent tantrums were at "high risk of mental health disorder." In fact, they were seven times more likely than other children to have a psychiatric disorder. The Duke scientists interviewed more than 5,000 parents over a decade and were able to link violent tantrums with the prevalence of "anxiety disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder, depression and Oppositional Defiance Disorder."

The Duke researchers noted that not every child has the type of tantrums they were talking about. Children who hit, yelled, kicked or broke things on a regular basis and in many different situations (at home, at daycare, with other adults, etc.) were the main focus. Those toddlers were five times more likely to experience depression in the first years of school.

However, children who had tantrums out of stubbornness (crying, lying on the floor refusing to move, etc.) were more likely experiencing symptoms of, say, sleep deprivation. "Kids who are not getting enough sleep can look like they have [a] mental health problem,'' said the study leader, Dr. Helen Egger.

"The real key is that the temper tantrums come out of the blue—there doesn't seem to be anything that triggers them," Egger said.

So what can you do to calm a toddler down? Don't give in, as that will just show them they're in control; make sure your child gets enough sleep (toddlers need 10 to 11 hours each night), and remain calm and collected.

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