You’re at the dinner table and your 3-year-old knocks over his glass. A lake of milk spreads across the table, some of it trickling down into your lap.
What do you do? Scream and scold! It has been a long day and you’re tired.
Your fit of rage throws your tot into a full-blown temper tantrum.
According to a new study this isn’t the best way to react. Researchers found that parents who overreact to their kids’ mishaps are more likely to have toddlers who act out too, according to Science Daily.
What if you work hard to control your anger and your toddler still tantrums? Interestingly, the scientists found that there might be a genetic component to problem behavior and even if you raise a toddler in a calm environment, he might still have a fiery personality if he’s genetically programmed to be that way.
The findings are important because they begin to explore how both home environment and genetics play a role in a child’s temperament.
In the study, researchers from Oregon State University, Oregon Social Learning Center followed 361 adoptive families in 10 states, collecting genetic data from birth parents as well as the children.
They checked in with the children at nine, 18 and 27 months of age, and, according to Science Daily, found that the children of over-reactive adoptive parents exhibited “negative emotionality” and “had more temper tantrums than normal for their age.”
Researchers also discovered a genetic component. Children who were at genetic risk of negative emotionality from their birth moms were more likely to tantrum even if they were raised in a peaceful, less-reactive environment. “It wasn’t a huge effect,” lead author Shannon Lipscomb, an assistant professor of human development and family sciences at OSU-Cascades, told SFGate. “But in some cases a positive, supportive environment can help protect kids from a genetic risk and that wasn’t entirely the case in our study.”
What’s more, the study showed that those kids who exhibited more emotional struggles as they developed from infants to toddlers had the most behavioral problems at age 2.
“This really sets our study apart,” Lipscomb told Science Daily. “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.”
So what are parents to do? “The takeaway is to keep your calm and cool when kids are misbehaving and testing boundaries,” Lipscomb told SFGate. “Even with kids who are genetically predisposed to negative emotionality, parenting plays an important role. Parents need to help kids learn to manage their emotions.”
The study appears in the new edition of the journal Development and Psychopathology.