“My children are lunatics,” said a beleaguered mother, and friend of mine, when I paid her a visit last spring. And she was pretty spot on with her assessment. Her children, while enormously cute in photographs, were destructive hellion children in the flesh. They were pulling toys out of one each other’s hands and then smashing things against the wall and stomping on jigsaw puzzles as if they were an invading army of red ants. And the noise, the noise…the noise. This mother, who I did sympathize with…greatly, did her best to meet the chaos with (hollow) threats and yells of her own, but she really couldn’t compete. The lunatics had taken over the asylum.
A few weeks later I had the pleasure of spending a few days with another family and witnessing the relative harmony of their ways. The two girls were playing cooperatively with one another and maintaining their toys, as well as an acceptable noise level. It was parenthood and family life in its most ideal form. Upon questioning the mother of these two children about how she maintained such tranquility, she responded with, “Mellow parents make for mellow children.” Fair enough. It would seem pretty obvious if spooked cows make sour milk, crazed parents make for crazed children.
Now comes word from Oregon State University that researchers have discovered that the parents of young children, who are reactionary and tend to over-react, are more likely to have toddlers who act out and become upset easily. The research was listed as “an important step in understanding the complex link between genetics and home environment” as the data was collected in 10 states from 361 families linked through adoption – and obtained genetic data from birth parents as well as the children. According to the report, these over-reactive parents, who were surveyed and observed, had a significant effect on their children, who exhibited “negative emotionality,” or acting out and having more temper tantrums than normal for their age. “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.”
The lesson in all of this is that parents, who have the ability to regulate their reactions, remain firm, and keep themselves from loosing their minds (at least in front of their children) wind up aiding their own children in behavior modification through example. Those parents who fall short of this goal often wind up sending the wrong message and exacerbating the circumstances.
But as well all know from experience, it is easier said than done at times. I started out as an extremely cool parent with copious reserves of patience only to find myself at a loss 4 years into this parenting experiment (translation: sometimes I raise my voice a bit – I am not proud of it). How do you manage keeping your cool around your children? Do you notice a direct correlation between parental behavior and child behavior? Is it possible to rewire genetics with calm and collected parenting?