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Some parents blame themselves when their toddlers throw down in fits of tantrum rage, and worse, other people almost always blame poor parenting skills when they see a toddler tantrum in public. But new research is putting the “bad parenting = tantrums” theory to rest. According to a recent study led by Eric Lacourse of the University of Montreal, genetic factors play a larger role in tantrums than a toddler’s environment. Researchers worked with parents of identical and non-identical twins in order to evaluate and compare the roles behavior, environment and genes may be playing when it comes to tantrums. What they found, according to a statement from Lacourse, is that, “The gene-environment analyses revealed that early genetic factors were pervasive in accounting for developmental trends, explaining most of the stability and change in physical aggression.” In a press release from the University of Montreal, Lacourse did note that just because genetics may play a large role with regard to aggression, this doesn’t mean, “That the early trajectories of physical aggression are set and unchangeable. Genetic factors can always interact with other factors from the environment in the causal chain explaining any behavior.”
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During the study, moms were asked to rate their twins physical aggression. The moms reported instances of hitting, biting, kicking and fighting, at the ages of 20, 32 and 50 months, and the results showed that while both environment and genes seemed to play a role in physical aggression, genetic factors were generally able to explain individual differences in aggression better than environmental factors — ie. parenting skills. Researchers were able to conclude that genes play an important role in tantrums due to limited shared environmental factors in physical aggression clashes with the results of studies of single, non-twin children. The study notes that most children do eventually learn how to use alternatives to aggression to get what they need or want and Lacourse states that, “…These cycles of aggression between children and siblings or parents, as well as between children and their peers, could support the development of chronic physical aggression.” Clearly, it’s still up to parents to provide a nurturing home and teach children anti-aggression techniques, but the next time your child melts down and has a tantrum, you may feel a little better knowing that it may just be in his genes and that eventually, with help from you, this behavior pattern will pass. In the meantime, help your little one calm down with a massage or meditation and don’t forget to take 15 minutes to relax your own body and mind so you can be a patient and loving parent.