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Health & Parenting

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5 Tantrum Red Flags

Warning Signs Your Child's Tantrum Might Signal a Mental Health Disorder

Tantrum Red Flags continued...

Tantrum expert Michael Potegal, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, says the Belden study is a welcome "step in the right direction."

"Everybody knows children throw tantrums, but remarkably tantrums have not been subjected to much study," Potegal tells WebMD.

During a tantrum, Potegal says, a child has two intense emotions: extreme anger, and extreme sadness or distress.

"My colleagues and I have found that hitting, kicking, and screaming during a tantrum is associated with anger, and crying, whining, comfort seeking, and perhaps throwing oneself down is associated with sadness," he says. "The Belden study focuses on anger; there is no mention of distress."

Worrisome Tantrums? What to Do

What should parents do if their child has "red-flag" tantrums?

"You can go two ways. One is to take the child to a pediatric neuropsychologist to get a broad assessment, including what is going on in the family, because some of this is absolutely in response to family difficulties," Belden says. "The other way is to go directly to a child psychologist who will focus on the child's emotional control and on the family circle."

If your child has tantrums, don't feel alone. Seven out of 10 18- to 24-month-old toddlers throw tantrums. And more than three-fourths of 3- to 5-year-olds have tantrums.

Belden and colleagues report their findings in the January 2008 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

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