Toddler Tantrum Check-List

Here’s a way to turn already crazy parents into lunatics when it comes to their children. Offer them a simple checklist that they can look over while their two year old is having a tantrum, and then let them see if it indicates early signs of mental health problems.

A team at Northwestern University as, apparently, decided that this checklist is a good idea, as they’ve created a new tool that they claim will have the reverse effect. They hope the tool will calm the nerves of parents who are worried that their child’s tantrum is an indication of deeper underlying issues.

Professor Lauren Wakschlag, of Northwestern University, said,

“It gives a measurable indicator to tell us when tantrums are frequent enough that a child may be struggling. Perhaps for the first time, we have a tangible way to help parents, doctors and teachers know when the frequency and type of tantrums may be an indication of a deeper problem.”

For the study, researchers asked the parents of close to 1500 three to five year olds to describe their child’s behavior, including tantrums.  From this information, the researchers were able to classify what they constitute as normal temper tantrums and to differentiate between these and ones that are problematic.

They have, at this time, created a questionnaire of 118 questions that parents can ask themselves about their children; and they are hoping to narrow down this focus to 25 key questions. Their hope is to create a simple form that parents can fill out in a pediatric waiting room, for instance, that will offer doctors immediate information about the child they will see.
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While parents left to their own devices may misinterpret findings of this sort, it does appear that the researchers’ work can help doctors and mental health professional. At the moment, the DSM does not have age-specific markers to determine the clinical significance of actions. The vague criteria in the DSM doesn’t take into account the needs of 3-5 year old children or their propensity for having temper tantrums.

As Prof. Wakschlag explained,

“Since most preschool children have tantrums, this vague criteria makes it exceptionally difficult for providers to determine when behaviour is of clinical significance in early childhood. There’s been a real danger of preschool children with normal misbehaviour being mis-labelled and over-treated with medication…This is why it is so crucial to have tools that precisely identify when worry is warranted in this age group.”

Their findings were published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.


James Fishman has been involved in the world of online magazines for more than 15 years. He helped launch Sunstone Online and continues to improve the magazine as site editor and administrator. His writing focuses primarily business and technology. To be in touch with James, feel free to contact him at james[at]

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