Research from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (NUFSM) will have you breathing a huge sigh of relief. It seems our kids aren't tantruming nearly as often we think. The new study, published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, also gives key insight into which kinds of misbehaviour are typical or those that are cause for concern.
In a new questionnaire called the Multidimensional Assessment of Preschool Disruptive Behavior (MAP-DB), parents of almost 1,500 preschoolers between ages three to five responded to questions about their child's tantrums in a given month.
While tantrums were common among this age set, fewer than 10 percent of the children were melting down daily, regardless of gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
"We have defined the small facets of temper tantrums as they are expressed in early childhood," said Lauren Wakschlag, lead author of the study and professor and vice chair in the department of medical social sciences at NUFSM. "This is key to our ability to tell the difference between a typical temper tantrum and one that is problematic."
While a 'typical' tantrum might happen when a child is tired or frustrated during daily routines such as at bedtime, mealtime or getting dressed, an 'atypical' tantrum seems to occur out of the blue and is so intense that the child is exhausted afterwards. If atypical tantruming happens regularly, it may be a red flag of some other clinical condition.
"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."
Researchers are hoping the MAP-DB will become the standardized "first step" that will enable parents and pediatricians to spot the early signs of mental health problems in children.