As a teacher, I have learned to spot the characteristics of children with behavior problems. It’s not all that difficult since most children with behavioral issues will be pretty apparent in a classroom setting. However, spotting a child with behavioral issue in pre-school and day care can be a little tougher since they’re only just learning to function in a controlled school environment where they must interact with peers and learn social and educational skills.

In a new study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development, researchers have found that behavioral problems may not be caused by the child’s environment, but rather a genetic predisposition to behavioral problems that is exacerbated by the environment.

Researchers wanted to examine whether or not the level of care offered by the public facilities created the problems, or if the problems already existed because of parental genes that were passed on to the children. Through the study, it was discovered that children with parents who displayed strong negative emotions and self-control were more likely to display a lack of self-control and struggle with anger.

The study used data from 233 families with adopted children to test the theory. Using questionnaire and compensating for the influence of the adoptive parents, it was found that children with birth parents displaying strong negative emotions and self-control were more likely to develop behavioral issues in pre-school and day care despite the level of care and education at these facilities.

The study's lead author Shannon Lipscomb, an assistant professor of human development and family sciences at Oregon State University-Cascades, remarked that "assuming that findings like this are replicated, we can stop worrying so much that all children will develop behavior problems at center-based care facilities, because it has been a concern," she said. "But some children (with this genetic predisposition) may be better able to manage their behavior in a different setting, in a home or smaller group size."

Lipscomb says that the research isn’t suggesting that parents should have their children genetically tested, but rather the research was done so that parents, teachers, and caregivers can better understand why some children struggle more with social interaction and large peer groups. It’s not through any fault on the teacher or parent’s part, it’s just something that may occur naturally through genetics and the answer is not forcing “normal” behavior, but rather accommodating the child to the point where they are able to control themselves.

Source: Oregon State University (2013, October 24). Genes interact with parental care in producing childhood behavioral problems, study suggests. ScienceDaily.

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