Parents who overreact and are easily angered during the time frame when infants move into toddlerhood are more likely to have toddlers who act out and become upset easily upset, new research suggests.
In the study, researchers collected data in 10 states from 361 families linked through adoption — and obtained genetic data from birth parents as well as the children.
They followed the children at nine, 18 and 27 months of age, and found that adoptive parents who had a tendency to overreact, for example, were quick to anger when children tested age-appropriate limits or made mistakes.
Investigators discovered the overreactive parents had a significant effect on their children, who exhibited “negative emotionality,” or acting out and having more temper tantrums than normal for their age.
Researchers also found evidence to support a genetic behavioral influence, especially in the case of children who were at genetic risk of negative emotionality from their birth mothers, but were raised in a low-stress or less-reactive environment.
The study was published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.
“This is an age where children are prone to test limits and boundaries,” said lead author Shannon Lipscomb, Ph.D. “However, 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.”
Investigators discovered children who exhibited the most increases in negative emotionality as they developed from infants to toddlers (from nine to 27 months of age) also had the highest levels of problem behaviors at age two.
This finding implies that negative emotions can have their own development process that has implications for children’s later behaviors.
“This really sets our study apart,” Lipscomb said.
“Researchers have looked at this aspect of emotionality as something fairly stable, but we have been able to show that although most kids test limits and increase in negative emotionality as they approach toddler age, the amount they increase can affect how many problem behaviors they exhibit as 2-year-olds.”
Lipscomb said the take-away message for parents of young children and infants is that the way they adapt to toddlerhood – a challenging time marked by a child’s increasing mobility and independence – can have an impact on how their child will develop.
“Parents’ ability to regulate themselves and to remain firm, confident and not overreact is a key way they can help their children to modify their behavior,” she said. “You set the example as a parent in your own emotions and reactions.”
Source: Oregon State University