When new research on child development emerges, BabySparks likes to be on top of it. That’s why we’re touching on a recent study published in the latest volume of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. The study involves the relationship between toddler expressive language delays (late-talkers) and temper tantrums. Many parents and caregivers may have already made the connection between late talking and frequent tantrums; it makes sense that a toddler’s struggle to communicate can spark frustration and lead to outbursts. Now, there’s solid evidence to back it up.
Highlights from the Study
Scientists at Northwestern University studied more than 2,000 participants in their research, including children between the ages of 12-38 months. Within the study, late talking was defined as a toddler having less than 50 words in his vocabulary and an inability to combine words (for example: “momma up” or “more juice”) by the age of 2. Researchers classified tantrums as “severe” with a few specific characteristics that included hitting, kicking, and holding breath. In addition, these tantrums were labeled as “regular” or “on the daily.”
The researchers concluded that:
- Expressive language is associated with temper tantrums between ages 12-38 months
- Late talkers/children with language delays have more severe temper tantrums
- The relative risk for severe tantrums is nearly twice as likely for late talkers
- A relationship between emergent language and mental health risk is evident
“We totally expect toddlers to have temper tantrums if they’re tired or frustrated, and most parents know a tantrum when they see it. 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,” says Elizabeth Norton, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences at Northwestern. The key words here are “frequent” and “severe.” The team developing this study explains that a few bad tantrums and the fact that your toddler doesn’t talk as much as your neighbor’s kid isn’t a reason to sound the alarm.
“All these behaviors must be understood within a developmental context,” said co-principal investigator Lauren Wakschlag, vice-chair in the department of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Wakschlag wants parents to be aware of the link between speech development and aggressive tantrums because when they happen at the same time, they feed off of each other and the problems can become worse. Researchers stress that catching these patterns early can make a fundamental difference in a child’s development.
This study is just the first step in a much bigger research project that’s taking place at Northwestern University called, “When to Worry.” The next phase will explore brain and behavioral development of toddlers challenged with speech delays and irritable behavior. BabySparks will be closely monitoring further developments from this research project so we can bring you the results.
In the meantime, head over to this article if you’d like to learn more about identifying severe tantrums. Lastly, we always encourage you to share any concerns about your child’s development with your pediatrician.