WASHINGTON: Temper tantrums in infants could signal early mental health problems, shows a research.
Northwestern University researchers have developed an easy-to-administer questionnaire specifically designed to distinguish the typical misbehaviour of early childhood from more serious misbehaviour.
This will enable early identification and treatment of emerging mental health problems, key to preventing young children struggling with their behaviour from spiraling downward into chronic mental health problems.
The new tool also will prevent rampant mislabeling and over-treatment of typical misbehaviour, The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry reported.
"That's an 'aha!' moment. It gives a measurable indicator to tell us when tantrums are frequent enough that a child may be struggling," said Lauren Wakschlag, professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, who led the study, according to a Feinberg statement.
Researchers developed the new questionnaire, the Multidimensional Assessment of Preschool Disruptive Behavior (MAP-DB), to ask parents of almost 1,500 diverse pre-schoolers, age three to five, to answer questions about their child's behaviour.
The questionnaire asked about the frequency, quality and severity of many temper tantrum behaviors and anger management skills over the past month.
In a surprising key finding, the study also debunks the common belief temper tantrums are rampant among young children. Although they are common among pre-schoolers, they are not particularly frequent, the research shows.
Less than 10 percent of young children have a daily tantrum. That pattern is similar for girls and boys, poor and non-poor children and Hispanic, white and African-American children.
"Perhaps for the first time, we have a tangible way to help parents, doctors and teachers know when the frequency and type of tantrums may be an indication of a deeper problem," said Wakschlag.
Until recently, the only diagnostic tools available for pre-school behaviour problems were those geared to older children and teens with more severe, aggressive behaviour.
More recently, there has been emphasis on measures developed specifically for pre-school children.
The results allowed researchers to rate children along a continuum of behaviour from typical to atypical, rather than focusing only on extreme behaviour. An atypical tantrum may be one that occurs "out of the blue" or is so intense that a child becomes exhausted.
While any of these behaviours may occur in some children from time to time, when these atypical forms of tantrums occur regularly, they become a red flag for concern.
"We have defined the small facets of temper tantrums as they are expressed in early childhood. This is key to our ability to tell the difference between a typical temper tantrum and one that is problematic," Wakschlag said.
For example, the study found that a typical tantrum may occur when a child is tired or frustrated or during daily routines such as at bedtime, mealtime or getting dressed.