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Child's Tantrum Style May Indicate Mental Disorder

Five high-risk tantrum styles may help distinguish healthy preschoolers from those with disorders

FRIDAY, Dec. 28 (HealthDay News) -- In preschool children, certain tantrum behaviors may be signs of a psychiatric disorder requiring medical attention, researchers report in the January issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

Andy C. Belden, Ph.D., of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and colleagues used Preschool-Age Psychiatric Assessment tests submitted by caregivers of 279 preschool children aged 3 to 6 and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) algorithms to assign the children to one of four diagnostic groups: healthy, pure depressed, pure disruptive, and comorbid depressed/disruptive.

Compared to healthy and depressed children, the researchers found that disruptive children had significantly more tantrums at school or daycare and were more likely to display violent tantrums. Compared to healthy children, disruptive children also had more difficulties in recovering from tantrums. The investigators also found that depressed children were more likely to display aggression toward objects and other people than healthy children, and depressed children displayed more self-harmful tantrum behaviors than either healthy or disruptive children.

"Our results suggest there are five high-risk 'tantrum styles,'" the authors state. "These styles and suggested cutoffs were based on several quantitative characteristics of tantrum behaviors that most powerfully differentiated preschoolers in the healthy group from those in DSM-IV diagnostic groups. It is important to note that the clinical application of these tantrum styles and cutoffs as markers of early onset disorders has not been empirically established."

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