Over-reactive parenting linked to negative emotions and problem behavior in toddlers

February 21, 2012

Researchers have found that parents of young children who anger easily and over-react are more likely to have toddlers who act out and become upset easily.

The research is an important step in understanding the complex link between genetics and . In the study, researchers from Oregon State University, Oregon Social Learning Center, and other institutions collected data in 10 states from 361 families linked through – and obtained data from birth as well as the .

They followed the children at nine, 18 and 27 months of age, and found that adoptive parents who had a tendency to over-react, for example, were quick to when children tested age-appropriate limits or made mistakes. These over-reactive 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.

Genetics also played a role, particularly 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 latest edition of the journal Development and Psychopathology.

"This is an age where children are prone to test limits and boundaries," said lead author Shannon Lipscomb, an assistant professor of human development and family sciences at OSU-Cascades. "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."

Researchers also found that children who exhibited the most increases in negative emotionality as they developed from infants to (from nine to 27 months of age) also had the highest levels of problem behaviors at age two, suggesting 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 over-react 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."

Explore further: Study uncovers clues to young children's aggressive behavior

Related Stories

Study uncovers clues to young children's aggressive behavior

October 26, 2011
Children who are persistently aggressive, defiant, and explosive by the time they're in kindergarten very often have tumultuous relationships with their parents from early on. A new longitudinal study suggests that a cycle ...

Parents' conflicts affect adopted infants' sleep

August 2, 2011
When parents fight, infants are likely to lose sleep, researchers report. "We know that marital problems have an impact on child functioning, and we know that sleep is a big problem for parents," said Jenae M. Neiderhiser, ...

Most parents who get tested for breast cancer genes share results with their children

January 9, 2012
A new study has found that when parents get tested for breast cancer genes, many of them share their results with their children, even with those who are very young. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal ...

Young children understand the benefits of positive thinking

December 22, 2011
Even kindergarteners know that thinking positively will make you feel better. And parents' own feelings of optimism may play a role in whether their children understand how thoughts influence emotions.

Recommended for you

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Before assigning responsibility, our minds simulate alternative outcomes, study shows

October 17, 2017
How do people assign a cause to events they witness? Some philosophers have suggested that people determine responsibility for a particular outcome by imagining what would have happened if a suspected cause had not intervened.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

For older adults, volunteering could improve brain function

October 17, 2017
Older adults worried about losing their cognitive functions could consider volunteering as a potential boost, according to a University of Missouri researcher. While volunteering and its associations with physical health ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.