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Children with delayed speech found to have more frequent tantrums

Researchers say kids’ behavior is greatly affected when they’re slower to talk

Photo (c) hoozone - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Northwestern University found that toddlers who are slower to start talking were found to have more intense and frequent tantrums when compared to those who developed language skills sooner. 

While tantrums can be problematic to deal with in the moment, the researchers found that they can also have negative implications for the future, including learning problems or mental health concerns. 

“We totally expect toddlers to have temper tantrums if they’re tired or frustrated, and most parents know a tantrum when they see it,” said researcher Elizabeth Norton. “But not many parents know that certain kinds of frequent or severe tantrums can indicate risk for later mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and behavior problems.” 

Effects of delayed speech

The researchers had over 2,000 parents participate in a survey which asked about their toddlers’ speech and tantrum habits. The parents involved in the study all had children between the ages of 12 and 38 months; researchers determined that a child was late to develop speech if they had fewer than 50 words learned and used by age two. 

The study revealed that when children had delayed speech, their tantrums were outside the realm of what was typical or expected in other children their age. According to the researchers, these tantrums are oftentimes accompanied by physical violence to others and themselves, and they occurred with the same heightened severity on a regular basis. 

Though serious findings, the researchers don’t want parents to panic or start comparing their children to others. They noted that identifying problem behaviors is the best way for parents to implement interventions that can help their toddlers in the future. 

“Parents should not overreact just because the child next door has more words or because their child had a day from ‘The Wild Things’ with many out-of-control tantrums,” said researcher Lauren Wakschlag. “The key reliable indicators of concern in both these domains is a persistent pattern of problems and/or delays. When these go hand in hand, they exacerbate each other and increase risk, partly because these problems interfere with healthy interactions with those around them.” 

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