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Longer Tantrums Predict Future Antisocial Behaviors in Kids

Update Date: Jan 15, 2015 05:41 PM EST
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Children who take longer to grow out of tantrums are significantly more prone to antisocial behavior in the future, according to a new study.

New findings from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis reveal that some symptoms of conduct disorder predict future problems in school. The latest findings suggest that children who show symptoms of high-intensity defiant behavior, aggression and destruction of property be evaluated by mental health professionals, according to researchers.

"Previously, we did not understand the empirical differences between normal disruptive behaviors in preschoolers - like temper tantrums, for example -- and behaviors that signal problems," senior investigator Dr. Joan L. Luby, professor of child psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a news release. "If you went to your pediatrician and said, 'My 3-year-old is having tantrums,' the pediatrician wouldn't tell you to see a psychiatrist."

Kids who showed high-intensity defiant behavior, aggression toward people or animals, high-intensity destruction of property, peer problems and deceitfulness, including stealing, were likely to have conduct disorder, which would cause problems in elementary school.

"We characterize a symptom as high-intensity when it's really 'high-pitched' -- so just how severe the anger is," Luby said. "Other factors that would qualify a symptom as high-intensity would hinge on how frequently the behavior occurs and the context in which it occurs. A high-intensity symptom is one that is very acute or severe, occurs over a long duration of time and happens in a number of different contexts."

"Children who had high-intensity symptoms as preschoolers were likely to have conduct disorder," first author Dr. Ji Su Hong, MD, a mental health provider for children treated at Grace Hill Health Centers in St. Louis, said in a statement. "And those symptoms also tended to predict conduct disorder when they reached school age."

Researchers noted that healthy preschoolers could also show disruptive behaviors like losing their tempers, throwing toys and lying. However, Luby and her team noted that about 5 percent of preschoolers have conduct disorder.

 "That's about one child per preschool class," Hong said. "And conduct disorder is a serious problem when it affects a child under 10 because early-onset problems are more likely to persist as the child grows up."

"In young children, violent and destructive behavior that's deliberate really seems to be a key warning sign," Luby concluded.

The study was published Jan. 15 in The Journal of Pediatrics.

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