1 Simple Change Can Improve Your Toddler’s Bad Behavior

1 Simple Change Can Improve Your Toddler’s Bad Behavior

New research shows that parents’ behavior can affect how their toddlers act.


By: Leah Maxwell

Most toddlers who habitually hit, kick, or bite others grow out of it between the ages of 3 and 4, but that’s little solace when you’re struggling to deal with their bad behavior and don’t know what’s causing it or how to fix it. As far back as the 1940s, studies have suggested that toddlers with better language skills are more capable of managing their negative emotions and are therefore less likely to be physically aggressive, but new data says there might be more to the story. A study by researchers at the University of Montreal found that parents might actually be part of the problem.

The study, published in November 2014, in the online journal PLOS ONE, showed that although there seemed to be a negative correlation between language skills and physical aggression -- namely, that children between 17 and 41 months were more likely to hit, kick, or bite if they weren’t as adept at expressing themselves verbally -- researchers also noted that parents’ reactions to their children’s bad behavior seemed to have an influence on it, both for better and worse.

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In the study of 2,057 subjects, parents who were more affectionate with their young children were more likely to see lower levels of aggression and higher levels of language development. Researchers aren’t yet sure whether that means affectionate parenting facilitates language learning and therefore less acting out, or that children who behave and talk better inspire more affection from their parents. More research is needed, but this early information might give parents new tools to add to their parenting toolbox.

Lest parents blame themselves entirely for their out-of-control toddlers, it’s important to note that researchers acknowledge the role of genetic and neurological factors in childhood behavior (meaning some kids really are just born that way). But the benefit of having this and related research does allow parents to make changes that might ease some of the frustration of raising a toddler. A combination of being generous with your affection and encouraging young children to “use their words” could have a positive effect on how our kids express anger and frustration in the toddler years and beyond.

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Where do you stand on the issue? Do you think aggressive toddlers are the result of less-affectionate parents?


Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/pojoslaw


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