Violent Toddler Tantrums May Indicate Mental Health Problems

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

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