Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

When to worry about kids' temper tantrums

30.08.2012
Distinguishing between preschoolers' typical misbehavior and early signs of mental health problems

Temper tantrums in young children can be an early signal of mental health problems, but how does a parent or pediatrician know when disruptive behavior is typical or a sign of a serious problem?

New Northwestern Medicine research will give parents and professionals a new tool to know when to worry about young children's misbehavior. Researchers have developed an easy-to-administer questionnaire specifically designed to distinguish the typical misbehavior of early childhood from more concerning misbehavior.

This will enable early identification and treatment of emerging mental health problems, key to preventing young children struggling with their behavior from spiraling downward into chronic mental health problems. The new tool also will prevent rampant mislabeling and overtreatment of typical misbehavior.

Surprise Finding: Temper Tantrums Not Frequent

In a surprising key finding, the study also debunks the common belief temper tantrums are rampant among young children. Although temper tantrums among preschoolers are common, 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.

"That's an 'aha!' moment, "said Lauren Wakschlag, professor and vice chair in the department of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of a paper, published August 29 in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. "It gives a measurable indicator to tell us when tantrums are frequent enough that a child may be struggling. 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."

Until recently, the only diagnostic tools available for preschool behavior problems were those geared to older children and teens with more severe, aggressive behavior. More recently, there has been emphasis on measures developed specifically for preschool children.

For the study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers developed the new questionnaire, the Multidimensional Assessment of Preschool Disruptive Behavior (MAP-DB), to ask parents of almost 1,500 diverse preschoolers, age three to five, to answer questions about their child's behavior. The questionnaire asked about the frequency, quality and severity of many temper tantrum behaviors and anger management skills over the past month.

The results allowed researchers to rate children along a continuum of behavior from typical to atypical, rather than focusing only on extreme behavior. Having a continuum will allow mental health professionals to intervene before there is a serious problem or watch and wait if a child is in the middle range. Early childhood is a critical period to identify a problem, because once negative problems become entrenched, they are harder to treat. This continuum also provides a barometer for determining when a child is improving on his/her own or through treatment.

"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. 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 behaviors may occur in some children from time to time, when these atypical forms of tantrums occur regularly, they become a red flag for concern.

This developmentally-based approach is in stark contrast to the commonly used Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which does not provide age-specific markers for determining clinical significance.

For example, a symptom of behavior problems in DSM is defined as "often loses temper."

"The definition of 'often' may vary substantially for younger and older children and depend on family stress levels and other mitigating factors," Wakschlag said. "Since most preschool children tantrum, this vague criteria makes it exceptionally difficult for providers to determine when behavior is of clinical significance in early childhood."

"There's been a real danger of preschool children with normal misbehavior being mislabeled and over-treated with medication," Wakschlag said. "On the other hand, pediatricians are hampered by the lack of standardized methods for determining when misbehavior reflects deeper problems and so may miss behaviors that are concerning. This is why it's so crucial to have tools that precisely identify when worry is warranted in this age group."

Linking Tantrums to Mental Health Problems, Social Functioning and Brain Reactivity in Early Childhood

To establish the clinical significance of these findings, Wakschlag, colleague Margaret Briggs-Gowan, from the University of Connecticut Health Center, and their collaborators are now examining how these tantrum patterns are linked to a range of mental health problems and problems in daily functioning such as getting along in school, with siblings and general social skills. In collaboration with Northwestern neuroscientist, Joel Voss, the study also is beginning to use brain-imaging techniques to uncover links between particular patterns of brain reactivity and these early problem behaviors.

Replicating Findings in Larger Sample

In addition, Wakschlag and colleagues are replicating their findings about the developmental pattern of misbehaviors in a second sample of 2,200 children, with the next step being disseminating the tool. The questionnaire is now 118 questions but researchers hope to use state-of-the-art measurement science to crunch it down to about 25 key questions. An ultimate goal of the research team is to widely disseminate the MAP-DB questionnaire in a brief computerized form for parents to fill out in pediatric waiting rooms, with the computer generating immediate feedback to pediatricians prior to the appointment.

Northwestern Expertise in Measurement Science Technology

Northwestern's department of medical social sciences, where the study was conducted, is recognized for its expertise in measurement science and health information technology -- methods for developing efficient computerized forms of health questionnaires that can be rapidly translated from the scientific discovery phase to biomedical application.

Seung W. Choi, an assistant professor in medical social sciences, is a coauthor on the paper.

The study was supported by grants R01MH082830 and R01MH090301 from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health.

NORTHWESTERN NEWS: www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/

Marla Paul | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.northwestern.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change
17.11.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

nachricht Win-win strategies for climate and food security
02.10.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Frictional Heat Powers Hydrothermal Activity on Enceladus

Computer simulation shows how the icy moon heats water in a porous rock core

Heat from the friction of rocks caused by tidal forces could be the “engine” for the hydrothermal activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus. This presupposes that...

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Underwater acoustic localization of marine mammals and vehicles

23.11.2017 | Information Technology

Enhancing the quantum sensing capabilities of diamond

23.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Meadows beat out shrubs when it comes to storing carbon

23.11.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>