Toddlers who bite and hit: it’s in their genes

New study suggests aggressive toddler behaviour is triggered by genes, not poor parenting

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Hitting, biting, tantrumming toddler? Don’t beat yourself up; it’s all in the genes.

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So say Canadian researchers, who’ve found that – contrary to popular belief -– the development of physical aggression in toddlers is far more strongly associated with genetic factors than with parenting or the family-home environment.

For the past 25 years, many experts have believed that aggressive toddler behaviour is triggered by exposure to bad role models at home or in the media but these new findings call those beliefs into question – and will probably come as a blessed relief to parents of rampaging toddlers the world over.

“[Our] analyses reveal that early genetic factors are pervasive in accounting for developmental trends,” says the researchers, who worked with the parents of non-identical and identical twins to evaluate and compare their behaviour, environment and genetics.

The researchers are quick to point out, though, that, even if aggression is in your toddler’s genes, there are plenty of things you can do as a parent to help your child behave more calmly and sociably. “It should be emphasised.” says lead researcher Eric Lacourse of the University of Montreal, “that these genetic associations do not imply that physical aggression is set and unchangeable.”

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