Feinberg professor discusses the significance of toddlers’ tantrums

Jennifer Hepp, Reporter

A Feinberg professor said in a colloquium on Monday that though labeling young kids with behavioral disorders carries negative stigma, intervention after detecting abnormal behavior can help a child later on in life.

Prof. Laurie Wakschlag, who also works in the School of Education and Social Policy, spoke to more than 70 students and faculty members at Chambers Hall on Monday to discuss disruptive behavior among young children.

In her lecture, “Preschoolers Are Not Delinquent! A Science of When to Worry in Early Childhood,” Wakschlag argued, “Kids are not going bad,” but they can develop severe psychological disorders extremely early on in life that can develop into more harmful habits.

“My specialization is bringing together what we know from developmental science and clinical mental health science to focus on how we can chart the early pathways and guide people for earlier and earlier intervention,” Wakschlag said.

The talk was part of a larger set of colloquiums sponsored by the Northwestern Institute for Policy Research, an interdisciplinary research institute focused on the social sciences. The lecture focused on Wakschlag’s research study investigating the Multidimensional Assessment of Preschool Disruptive Behavior, a spectrum for understanding normalcy in child behavior. Wakschlag specializes in the study of behavioral patterns in infancy and has conducted multiple studies in the hopes of diagnosing serious problems earlier in development.

Wakschlag said the topic highlighted the importance of research that can make a difference in ordinary people’s lives.

“We can do all the important, deep dive research there is, but if it doesn’t translate to people actually doing things, then what does it matter?” Wakschlag said. “It’s the importance of work that matters.”

David Cella, chair of Feinberg’s Medical Social Sciences department, in which Wakschlag teaches, said he hopes her research leads to change.

“Hopefully, someday her information will be used to create either policy or mental health interventions early to prevent behaviors that are bad for people in society, like crime and drug abuse and mental health disorders,” he said.

Wakschlag said she wants to transform how people perceive disruptive behavior in children and educate them on how they can prevent it early on.

“I want to get people engaged about early development and about what we can do to improve the lives of young children at risk,” Wakschlag said.

SESP Prof. Kirabo Jackson, an IPR fellow, said he enjoyed Wakschlag’s perspective on what true “problem” behaviors are.

“I have a toddler myself so I was thinking, ‘Well is that something I see in him, and does he do this a lot? Does he do it daily?’” Jackson said. “It had a personal element because I can sort of relate to these things, and everyone with young kids probably had (a similar) experience.”

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