Violent Toddler Tantrums May Indicate Mental Health Problems

Say What!? 7

I’ve long joked that toddlers are sometimes like little mental patients. They are moody, throw tantrums, can be easily frustrated, and generally don’t know how to behave appropriately in public. The hope is that with guidance and love, they grow out of the terrible twos and terrifying threes.

Now a new study suggest that particularly difficult toddlers have a higher risk of actual mental illness. Researchers have found a link between toddler aggression and depression in school students.

Toddlers who hit, kick, or break objects when they throw tantrums are seven times more likely than other kids to suffer from a psychiatric disorder, and five times more likely to suffer depression or anxiety in elementary school.

Dr. Helen Egger, who heads Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Centre, says that real link comes from violent temper tantrums that seem to come out of the blue.

"The real key is that the temper tantrums come out of the blue - there doesn't seem to be anything that triggers them. Children who have early childhood mental health problems commonly (throw tantrums) in every setting -- at home, daycare and outside the home, and with adults who are not their parents. Kids who don't do that -- even if they lie on the floor and kick their feet and hold their breath and carry on -- don't have a higher risk of having a mental health disorder."

Or they could just need a nap. Dr. Egger admits, “Kids who are not getting enough sleep can look like they have another mental health problem.”

Seriously though, it makes sense. No one is a completely blank slate, and some people are just more naturally tightly wound than others. As toddlers with basically no self-control, of course they're going to throw more tantrums, but it doesn't mean they'll grow up to be psychopaths. 

If your sweet little angel is prone to temper tantrums, just remember that it’s totally normal. Try to stay calm, be consistent, and whatever you do -- don’t give in. The last thing you want to do is teach your child that tantrums get results.

How do you deal with temper tantrums?


Image via Mascarucci/Corbis

discipline, in the news, tantrums, toddler health, toddler sleep


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nonmember avatar generic name

My daughter, 7, can throw the mother of all fits. Giving her a smack on the butt doesn't work and when she in certain moods, you cant combat violence with violence so what I have found that works is, I dump a glass of water over her head. It stops her in her tracks, shes not injured, and I don't later feel like a jerk for swatting her. I tell her if she doesn't stop, I'm getting a glass of water. Since she hates that, she will usually stop. Win win..

Vanessa Poholek Fasanella

Lack of sleep and lack of a balanced diet can make a healthy child look like a mentally ill one. Once those things are fixed, then, and only then, can you see if you are deally with an anixety disorder, or something else. I wish people understood how much sleep growing children need! Children who are 5 should be in bed by 7:15pm, not 9:30-10pm, so parents can spend time with them and watch TV. If everyone went to bed earlier, we would see a big decrease in so many issues.

nonmember avatar JustMe

RE: Spankings...

nonmember avatar ashleigh

My son is almost 4 and has been having breakdowns recently that seemed like they were coming from nowhere. However his dad is deployed and he's getting a baby sister next month. After a few minutes of just talking I can usually figure out why he's just started crying uncontrollably. We've been working on teaching him to recognize why and when he's starting to get upset. If he can come to me and tell me he's sad we usually endup crying a little together and he feels much better. I don't want him growing up thinking it's bad to let his feelings out and I figure if I can teach him this early to come to me or his dad with his problems we can avoid the destructive behavior some boys can develop as they get older. And if he gets used to putting words to his emotions now I'm hoping it will help make him a more caring, open, and available husband in the future :) I want him to be able to make his wife as happy as my husband has made us. Sometimes tantrums and acting out can just be a sign that they need a little more attention and guidance as to how to express themselves in a moment they're overwhelmed within themselves :)

Charlotte Prescott Ruland

And I totally agree with that, Vanessa! Sleep and nutrition are extremely important, and unfortunately my son was a picky eater (thanks to me thinking baby food only was a good idea instead of starting him eating from my plate like I did all my other kids; not even sure why I did that). At any rate, my 1-year-old eats everything in sight because I started him on table food very early (four months).

And my son has also stopped his naps which he did consistently at the same time every single day; but after we had our last baby his naps were skipped and now he just passes out around 3 or 4 each day intermittently, and then wakes up grumpy. Sleeping with a schedule is also a good thing to have, ensuring your tot gets the sleep he/she needs.

Good point, Vanessa!

nonmember avatar nicole

there I was, thinking who in the hell would compare two year olds to "mental patients"....and there was Jenny, doing what she does best. being ignorant. Those suffering with mental illness don't need your jokes comparing them with toddlers.

SueMN... SueMNanaMama

Y'all do realize that children didn't use to get mental illness, right?  The more we vaccinate, the sicker our kids become.  The more we feed them additives and junk instead of wholesome food from farm to fork, the sicker we all get.

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