People don’t call them “the terrible twos and threes” for nothing – it’s because toddlers begin learning how to communicate their feelings…usually through screaming, crying, and flailing around on the ground!  But how do you know if it is a tantrum or if it is highlighting a bigger underlying problem?

While children do go through phases – which can last anywhere from a week to a few months – it can be difficult to tell whether or not your child is developing a behavioural problem or is going through a run-of-the-mill phase.

Differences Between Tantrums and Behavioural Disorders

Tantrums are how young children process difficult feelings and they are extremely common in children aged 18-36 months.  At around 42-48 months, the amount of children who display tantrums decreases significantly.  Things like stress, hunger, exhaustion can exasperate a tantrum, so as a parent it is your job to keep tabs on the needs of your child!

An article by NBC News states the following:

Diagnosis of more serious behavior disorders, including oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder, are currently based on signs and symptoms, such as stealing, vandalism and rape that would only be seen in older kids.

But “there’s more and more evidence that these kinds of mental health problems emerge early in childhood,” says Lauren S. Wakschlag, an associate professor at the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Toddlers with DBD can get “stuck” in an emotion, Wakschlag says. “They get so upset, they can’t come down,” she adds. And while it’s normal for any toddler to have meltdowns, kids with the disorder can have 20-minute tantrums as many as 10 times a day, according to Wakschlag.

The Chicago researcher notes another sign that can spell trouble: when a toddler is physically aggressive — hitting, biting, or kicking — not just with other children, but also with adults.


Common Causes of Bad Behaviour in children:

  1. Behaviour is modeled after parents or those close to them. If a parent displays signs of aggression or curses often, a child will tend to pick up on this behaviour and display it.
  2. Disruptive Behaviour Disorders (DBD) – includes ADHD, Bi-polarism, or other kinds of psychosis.
  3. Autism – Children can appear to be remote, indifferent, isolated, and have difficulty forming emotional connections with other people.  This disorder can manifest itself in mental retardation, language delays, and other children are very high-functioning with intelligence and speech intact.
  4. Abuse – Toddlers often can’t tell you something is wrong, so it comes out in their behaviour. Sudden changes in behaviour or performance, being frightened easily, or if your toddler has bumps, bruises (not from falling down from learning to walk), lacerations or the like should all be indicators that a babysitter, family member or teacher is hurting your child.  If you suspect someone IS hurting or abusing your child, get a hold of the authorities and start an investigation.  It is imperative that your child grows up feeling safe, nurtured and loved!



Jana Moreno