Outgrowing Bad Behavior: Some Do and Some Don’t

behaviorWhen are kids just being kids, and when are they headed for trouble? New research is using more high-tech tools and some simple questions to help parents understand which category their child fits into.[1]

University of Michigan psychologist, Dr. Luke Hyde and his colleagues have been exploring the roles environment and biology play as they shape behavior over time.1 This new field of study is called neurogenetics, and it combines genetics, neuroscience, and psychology to learn how genes and neural processes interact with harsh environments.1 Genes, experience, and the brain work together to either heighten or reduce the risk of normal childhood transgression developing into conduct disorders in adolescence and early adulthood.1

Currently, according to Hyde, the average lifetime prevalence of conduct disorder is 10 percent, and it is even higher in males and low-income populations.1 These troubling behaviors are often chronic, lasting through adulthood.1

In a recent study, Hyde and colleagues looked at patients with over-reactive amygdala responses.1 An almond-shaped part of the brain’s limbic system, the amygdala is involved in processing fear and other visceral emotions, such as impulsiveness, aggression, anxiety, and depression.1

According to Hyde, past research has suggested that the amygdala becomes over-reactive due to genetics and experience.1 Once it becomes over-reactive, people behave in anxious and aggressive ways to things they perceive as a potential threat.1 If the person does not have support from family, friends, the community, or professionals, the link between the amygdala and problem behavior is stronger.1

In another study, Hyde and colleagues found that impulsive children are at a higher risk of engaging in antisocial behavior if they live in more dangerous neighborhoods.1 A behavior checklist was also formed to use as early as age three to identify children who will have more anti-social behavior compared to other more normal behavioral problems (temper tantrums).1 The checklist assesses observable behaviors that include whether or not the child is mean to animals, doesn’t feel guilty after misbehaving, is sneaky, lies often, is selfish, and won’t change the behavior despite punishment.1

Before age three, many of these behaviors are quite common and are not able to help predict anything; however, after age three, it is likely to show if their behavior is going to escalate in the years to come.1 Fortunately, children who scored high on the checklist benefitted from behavioral interventions.1 Commonly, parent management training is used, which focuses on giving parents better skills to manage their child’s behavioral problems.1 It teaches parents to spend more positive time with their children, use time-outs instead of physical punishment, and reward good behavior.1 Parents are educated about the efficacy of interventions, especially if done early.1 Seeking help at the first signs of trouble is a must.1

[1] Nauert, R. (2013). Why Most Kids Outgrow Bad Behavior (And Some Don’t). Psych Central. Retrieved on November 8, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/11/07/why-most-kids-outgrow-bad-behavior-and-some-dont/61708.html

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