Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Over-Reacting May Worsen Toddler Tantrums

If you are the parent of a toddler, as I am, you know that it is a somewhat tricky time as a parent. Your child is asserting his/her independence, often in ways that make your life difficult or test your patience. If your child is anything like mine, the words, “I do it by myself” is a constant refrain. Add to this, the fact that toddlers are often testing limits, and you have a recipe for many potential high-stress situations.

Well, a recent piece of research should give you a little hope. Researchers at the Oregon Social Learning Center recently published an article showing that parents who can keep their “cool” when their youngsters test their patience, have a better of chance of their kids not having behavior problems in the future. The study is actually quite impressive from a research perspective. The scientists were able to study 361 families and assess their children at three time points—9 months, 18 months, and 27 months. To be able to follow that many families over three points of time is a feat not many researchers attempt.

The primary finding of the study showed that children whose parents who have a tendency to over-react and/or are quick to get angry with them, are more likely to have more tantrums and negative behavior at age 2. Is important to note that most children increase in their tantrum-type behavior during this toddler period, but this study clearly showed that children whose parents over-reacted increased in this negative behavior even more than average.

The good news for parents is that if you can maintain your “cool” while still setting firm boundaries, you are helping your child learn emotion regulation by your example. When a child misbehaves it is often tempting to react quickly out of emotion and not think about the consequences. It is often a struggle to keep your emotions contained, but if you can keep your composure and discipline the child with less intense negative emotion, the child will slowly learn how to regulate their own emotions as well. So take heart parents, we can survive those toddler years without losing our sanity. Lipscomb, S., Leve, L., Shaw, D., Neiderhiser, J., Scaramella, L., Ge, X., Conger, R., Reid, J., & Reiss, D. (2012). Negative emotionality and externalizing problems in toddlerhood: Overreactive parenting as a moderator of genetic influences Development and Psychopathology, 24 (01), 167-179 DOI: 10.1017/S0954579411000757 

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