Pediatric Study Reveals Tantrum Behavior Links to Psychiatric Disorders

Reading about Dr. Belden’s study produced a light bulb moment for me. With 20/20 hindsight, it revealed to me a danger my now six year old son may be facingpsychiatric diagnosis or risk.

I take issue with Ms. Drake’s response on several levels. Being your child’s advocate involves listening to all available information. Those who disparage a point of view because it doesn’t fit their particular set of circumstances are irresponsible. It is simply ignorant to label “outrageous” a study conducted by professionals with, presumably, the intent to help parents and children. There is nothing worse than parents whose children have no difficult issues to contend with (severe allergies, psychiatric problems, chronic medical conditions, etc.) minimizing the experience of those who struggle daily with serious, often life-threatening problems. I take it back. It is worse to hear people with no children minimize these struggles.

Sadly, my son’s father was recently diagnosed with a serious mental illness. If I had been aware of the diagnosis and everything it means when my son was an infant, it might have completely changed the landscape of our family in what could only have been a positive way. Our family has struggled endlessly with my son’s numerous medical and behavioral problems from a very early age, including severe tantrums with all five indicative factors identified in the article. He was born prematurely and had a very difficult birth experience followed by a NICU hospital stay.

Before he hit six months, he was diagnosed with asthma and prescribed numerous medications that have possible behavioral side effects. There is no way to know if his inability to be soothed at four months of age was because of medication, temperament or as Ms. Drake would have it, his need to “act out to see how what kind of reaction” he would get from his parents.

His asthma continued to be severe through his entire young life, and the medications were a necessity, even though they might have caused extreme behavior problems. The alternative would have been to allow his breathing to deteriorate to the point of no return and risk his death.

When he was two, he began throwing extreme tantrums. Yes, most children throw tantrums at one time or another as Dr. Belden acknowledges. But some children go to pretty wild extremes. My son at three, threw adult sized furniture, screamed for hours, tore the bedding and mattresses off his twin sized bed, and hurled every book from a large book case at his door.

I consulted his pediatrician, read books, talked to the preschool teacher, friends, and anyone who might have some insight to offer. Many of those including the pediatrician suggested Ms Drake’s approach to ignore the tantrums. I tried this, and my son once went on in an earsplitting violent fit for three hours straight without a single second of silence, in his room alone, mind you.

I also tried the opposite approach, which indicated holding him and speaking calmly. He kicked, bit, hit, wrestled and verbally abused me for an average of one hour each tantrum, sometimes more than once a day. While this approach was exhausting, it seemed to be the most effective. I listened to my son’s maniacal cries and determined that he was actually frightened, terrified, really. To have ignored him would have not only been useless but cruel.

When my son was five, we found a therapist who practices Parent Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT), an approach that helps establish bonding for children who have attachment issues. We suspected that my son’s difficulties stemmed partially from his traumatic experience at birth and hospital stay. We worked with the therapist for a year, and my son made great strides. His asthma had also improved and he was able to scale back considerably on many of the medications he had been taking. He still had occasional bouts with self control and tantrums, but they were much more easily managed. I have also recently found another helpful resource in Healing Parents: Helping Wounded Children Learn to Trust & Love by Michael Orlans and Terry M. Levy.

Being aware of the increased risk my son faces to developing a mental illness due to possible genetic links, now that his father has been diagnosed, is only made more frightening by the knowledge that he has already shown signs that might lead to his own diagnosis. As his mother, however, I am grateful for the knowledge and consider it a heads up to do an even better job of raising him in a healthy and sane environment.