Toddler Makes You Mad? Take a Chill Pill

Behavioral problems more likely in children who experience negative parental emotions

(RxWiki News) Toddlers are known to test the boundaries of their new world, often testing parents in the process. It is easy to feel angry at bad behavior, but be careful because too strong of a reaction could make things worse.

While behavioral traits are also genetic, a new study has found that environment is a strong factor - even at a very young age. If the earliest impressions are negative, they could have lasting negative implications.

"Try to raise your child in a low-stress environment."

Shannon Lipscomb, an assistant professor of human development and family sciences at Oregon State University-Cascades, explains that the most important thing parents can learn from this is that their children are easily and directly affected by their actions.

“Parents’ ability to regulate themselves and to remain firm, confident and not over-react is a key way they can help their children to modify their behavior,” said Lipscomb. “You set the example as a parent in your own emotions and reactions.”

The study looked at 361 families who were linked through adoption and obtained genetic information from biological parents. By looking at adopted children they were able to separate out facets of genetics from environmental factors.

The team collected data from the children at 9, 18, and 27 months. They found that children who experienced the most negative emotionality as infants were the most likely to develop behavioral problems at two years old. These children were more likely to ‘act out’ and throw temper-tantrums.

Genetics also had an impact, especially for children at risk from birth mothers but raised in an environment with low negative emotionality. However, parents can more directly effect behavior by creating a low-stress environment for children to explore.

“Research consistently shows that children with elevated levels of negative emotionality during these early years have more difficulties with emotion regulation and tend to exhibit more problem behavior when they are of school age,” adds Lipscomb.

The study was published in the journal Development and Psychopathology on Feb. 24th, 2012, and funded by the National Institutes of Health.