Some 'terrible twos' behaviors may suggest later problems

Leslie Leve of the College of Education

Is your troublesome toddler destined for big-time antisocial behavior and a life of crime?

A new study, published online April 8 ahead of print in the American Journal of Psychiatry, offers help to parents by identifying clues that suggest a child's early shenanigans may be warning signs of trouble later in life. It also points toward a source of early problems.

“The really exciting take-home message from this study is that small, day-to-day positive interactions that parents have with their young children can make a huge difference in children’s development," said the UO's Leslie Leve, a co-author on the study and a professor in the College of Education's Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services

"Even when a child has inherited a very challenging set of behaviors, hearing 'good job' or receiving a pat on the back can help protect that child from developing serious problems stemming from their inherited difficulties,” said Leve, who also is associate director of the UO's Prevention Science Institute.

Leve was a co-leader for the study, which follows children adopted at birth through their childhoods. The research team focused on behaviors in the toddler years that go beyond simply the so-called "terrible twos" and include lack of empathy, little affection and little emotion. These are tied to escalated behaviors that may occur later, such as aggression, stealing and fighting.

"Biology is not destiny, and parents can play a major role in shaping their child’s behavior, even if the child shows early warning signs of serious behavior problems,” noted Rebecca Waller, a University of Michigan research fellow who contributed to the study, which was supported by the National Institutes of Health and Penn State University's Social Science Research Institute.

For more detailed information about the study, read the news release issued by the Penn State University or check out the study.