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  • Your Child's Bad and Aggressive Behavior May Be a Result of How You Treat Him

    How you relate to your child will eventually show in his behavior
    by Lei Dimarucut-Sison .
Your Child's Bad and Aggressive Behavior May Be a Result of How You Treat Him
PHOTO BY iStock
  • The basic — and often more critical — lessons in life are learned from inside the four walls of a home rather than in a formal educational setting. Among others, these lessons include good moral values like respect, empathy, and kindness. It's why when a child misbehaves, it is often ascribed to one's parentage more than any other factor that may have influenced the conduct ("Hindi ka ba tinuruan ng magulang mo?"). It's hard not think that a child is a reflection of his parents.

    Science backs this connection with a recent study made jointly by the University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and Michigan State University. To establish if parents' harsh behavior towards their children and lack of affection or warmth contributed to their children's behavior as they grow up, researchers worked with 227 pairs of identical twins aged 6 to 11 years old and their parents.

    Through a survey, the researchers established the quality of the home environment where these kids are growing up. Parents were made to complete a 50-item questionnaire, which included questions like, "I often lose my temper with my child," and "My child knows I love him/her." Consequently, the children's behavior was assessed by asking the mother to report on 35 traits that are associated with aggression and "callous-unemotional" traits (CU), which include lack of empathy and moral compass. 

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    The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in December 2018, found that the twin who was treated more harshly and who was given less emotional warmth by his parents exhibited CU traits and may be more likely to show aggressive behavior. 

    “The study convincingly shows that parenting — and not just genes — contributes to the development of risky callous-unemotional traits,” says Luke Hyde, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “Because identical twins have the same DNA, we can be more sure that the differences in parenting the twins received affect the development of these traits.”

    Rebecca Waller, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a lead author of the study, has been heavily involved in research related to parenting. An initial experiment confirmed that parental warmth does play a significant role in a child's behavior, particularly when it comes to lack of empathy and moral compass.

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    “Some of the early work on callous-unemotional traits focused on their biological bases, like genetics and the brain, making the argument that these traits develop regardless of what is happening in a child’s environment, that parenting doesn’t matter. We felt there must be something we could change in the environment that might prevent a susceptible child from going down the pathway to more severe antisocial behavior.”

    While there are limitations to the study, the authors are optimistic that it might provide a more significant understanding of kids' aggressive behavior, and what parents can do to promote empathy at home. 

    In an article on SmartParenting.com.ph, international parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba defines empathy as “the first essential virtue of moral intelligence, the ability to identify with and feel for another person’s concerns. It’s the powerful emotion that halts violent and cruel behavior and urges us to treat others kindly." She says we can teach children to feel for others with some simple steps.

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    Use the “feels + needs” formula 

    In this exercise, the parent points out a person's feelings to her child, then asks the child to think what that person might need to address that feeling. 

    For example:

    Parent: Look at that little boy crying and wet in the evacuation center. How do you think he feels?

    Child: I think he is cold.

    Parent: What do you think he needs to make him feel better?

    Child: Maybe he would need a blanket or some dry clothes.

    Explain why uncaring behavior is unacceptable

    Set expectations and call the kids out when they do otherwise. It can be as simple as saying, “Treating your sister that way is unacceptable. We expect you to treat her and other people the way you would want to be treated.”

    Set consequences for uncaring behavior

    Make sure, though, that the intended outcome will be meaningful, age-appropriate, and they “fit the crime.”

    Regarding their research, Dr. Hyde underscores the vital role parents play in preventing children from developing troublesome behavior. “This provides strong evidence that parenting is also important in the development of callous-unemotional traits. The good news is we know that treatments can help parents who may need extra support with children struggling with these dangerous behaviors.”

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