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The National Institute of Mental Health archives materials that are over 4 years old and no longer being updated. The content on this page is provided for historical reference purposes only and may not reflect current knowledge or information.

Irritability in Children - Dr. Ellen Leibenluft


Leibenluft: We study irritability in children. Irritability is when children have difficulty tolerating frustration. So a classic example would be a child, for example, who’s playing a video game and the parent tells the child to stop doing that and go do your homework. Now, any child would be frustrated by that. But the kinds of children that we see have difficulty tolerating that. They get extremely upset when they’re told that they have to stop doing something that they like doing. And they can frequently get very emotional with it. They can have temper outbursts -- sometimes with yelling, sometimes with hitting. And the children that we study have a great deal of difficulty with this. The amount of frustration that they have is not typical for children of their age. And because of that, it creates problems at home. They get into a lot of conflict with their parents and their siblings. It’s a very difficult situation for the entire family.  We’re trying to understand two things, really. One is we’re trying to understand what’s going on in the brains of these children that they have more difficulty tolerating frustration, compared to other children. So that’s one thing, to understand what’s really causing this.  And then the other thing is to use that knowledge to develop new treatments. Because, of course, in the end, that’s what we want to do. We want to be able to help children and their families when the child is struggling with this kind of problem. So really a main goal for us is to develop new ways to treat children who have irritability and difficulty with temper outbursts.