Toddlers who hit, kick or break things when they throw tantrums have a higher risk of mental illness, new research reveals.
But some kids diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or Oppositional Defiance Disorder may just be too tired.
The convener of the college’s Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry conference in Melbourne this week, Dr Paul Robertson, said more Australian toddlers and preschoolers were being treated for aggression.
“We have children excluded from kindy or childcare because of the level of aggressiveness,” he told News Corp newspapers yesterday.
“Kids are attacking other kids with knives and toys.
“It’s fairly high levels of aggressive behaviour.”
Groundbreaking American research – to be presented at the conference today – has found the first link between toddler tantrums and depression in school students.
Tantrum-throwing toddlers who hit, kick, bit or break objects at the age of two or three are seven times more likely than other kids to be suffering a psychiatric disorder.
And they are five times more likely to suffer depression or anxiety at primary school.
The research, based on interviews with more than 5000 parents of toddlers over a decade, has found a link between violent tantrums and anxiety disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder, depression and Oppositional Defiance Disorder.
Study leader Dr Helen Egger – who heads Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina – said children who threw a violent tantrum every day had a “high risk of mental health disorder”.
“Children who kick, hit, bite or break something during a tantrum are seven times more likely than children who don’t to have some kind of mental health problem,” she told News Corp.
“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.”
Dr Egger said some young children diagnosed with mental health problems might just be sleep deprived.
Children needed 10 to 11 hours sleep each night, she said, and could be misdiagnosed with a mental problem if they showed symptoms of sleep deprivation.
“Kids who are not getting enough sleep can look like they have another mental health problem,” she said.
“We need to make sure children are going to bed early enough, and not watching television in their rooms.”
Dr Robertson said busy working parents were becoming more isolated from friends, extended family and neighbours who might otherwise help and give advice.
“With parents working longer hours, we find they are parenting in isolation,” he said.
“Children need to be raised by a network of responsible, capable adults around them. ”
The chairman of the psychiatrists’ child psychiatry faculty, Dr Nick Kowalenko, said parents’ drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence could also be triggering emotional problems in preschoolers.
“Even if kids witness domestic violence but are not the victims of it, they often will experience post-traumatic symptoms just seeing it,” he said.
“You’ll get problems sleeping, clinginess, they get more irritable and cranky and anxious.”
DEALING WITH TANTRUMS
DON’T give in – you will teach your child that tantrums get results.
STAY calm and comfort the child.
ROUTINES help young children feel in control.
SLEEP – toddlers need 10 to 11 hours each night.
FRUSTRATION, anger, fatigue and a change in routine are key triggers.
TODDLERS are twice as likely to throw a tantrum with their parents than with other adults.
Source: Duke Medicine
This article first appeared on The Courier Mail on 12 October, 2013.