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Study finds link between tantrums and depression or disruptive disorders

Credit: Washington University

By Julie Bierach, KWMU

SAINT LOUIS, MO – A study conducted by researchers at Washington University shows that excessive tantrums in pre-school age children could indicate serious mental health problems.

Researchers studied 270 children between the ages of 3 and 6. They compared tantrums in healthy children to those of children diagnosed with depression or disruptive disorders.

Andrew Belden, a post-doctoral research scholar in child psychiatry, says the red flags include the frequency and length of tantrums, and aggressive behaviors towards their parents or themselves.

"Children who are scratching themselves, biting themselves, just trying to hurt themselves during the tantrum, that actually occurred very rarely in children, except for children who are in the depressed group," said Belden.

Another red flag, according to Belden, is when a child is unable to calm them self following a tantrum.

Researchers say it's normal for children to have tantrums, but when they regularly display aggressive and disruptive behaviors, parents should seek the advice of a pediatrician and possibly a mental health referral.