Temper Tantrums

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Story Updated: Aug 30, 2012

If your toddler is prone to temper tantrums...how do you know if it is normal...or means something more?

Researchers at Northwestern University have been studying preschool temper tantrums, trying to distinguish between typical misbehavior and early signs of possible mental health problems. They asked the parents of nearly 1,500 children, ages three to five, about their child's behavior.

Using a newly developed questionnaire, they focused on the frequency and severity of the tantrums, the triggers, and how well the kids were able to manage their anger.While tantrums among the group were common... less than 10-percent of young children threw a daily "fit." And that relatively low percentage carried across girls and boys, poor and non-poor children and Hispanic, white and African-American children.

The study's lead author says discovering that tantrums are not rampant in this age group was an ah ha moment and that the data are a strong indicator that frequent tantrums are atypical and may be a sign of a deeper problem requiring intervention from mental health professionals.

The researchers are now fine tuning this diagnostic tool to help doctors diagnose the difference between a normal tantrum...and a troubling pattern of outbursts.

I'm Dr. Cindy Haines of HealthDay TV, with information that can help keep your family healthy.

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