Are You Making Bad Behavior Worse?

Written by Dona Matthews, Ph.D

Published on

Anger and defiance are normal responses to feeling threatened or afraid. That’s true for children as well as adults, whether the threat is real and outside ourselves, or inside, as happens when we’re deeply upset or overwhelmed with embarrassment, grief, or disappointment. Anger or defiance can relieve a sense of powerlessness, and temporarily numb the pain.

Young children don’t have the necessary tools for managing their upsets. They don’t have the brain capacity to put their disappointments into context, to soothe themselves, or regulate their responses. Punishing them for being difficult is not only unfair, but it’s also counter-productive. It just makes them feel more powerless, and angrier.

If punishment makes bad behavior worse, what does work when children misbehave? What can you do when your child is angry, difficult, or defiant?

  1. Be fully present, with calm, loving empathy. An angry or defiant child is suffering. They feel threatened. So, resist the urge to yell back or punish. Don’t let your own emotions be triggered by your child’s bad behavior. If you speak harshly or punish them, you’ll be making their world scarier and increasing the likelihood of further explosions. Instead, be a grownup. Take a deep breath and be fully present to your child’s pain. You’ll be modeling the emotional skills your child needs to calm themselves down.
  2. Acknowledge the reason for the anger. By calmly showing your child you understand why they’re upset (whether or not it seems reasonable to you), they will feel safer, and better able to feel the vulnerable emotions driving the anger. That’s true whether they’re feeling grief over a broken toy, hurt over a harsh word, or fear of a bully.
  3. Let them know all emotions are acceptable. Even “bad” emotions—anger, envy, hopelessness, sadness—are honest and real. Don’t tell your child to calm down or to act appropriately. Instead, welcome their feelings, whatever they are, and be grateful they trust you enough to share their feelings with you. Your acceptance allows your child to accept their negative feelings, instead of trying to repress them, which never goes well.  
  4. Tell them they can’t act on their anger. Kids should never be allowed to hit, bite, scratch, or kick others, including their parents. If your child does this, they are asking for you to set limits and help them contain their anger. You might say "You can be as mad as you want, but I won't let you hit me or anyone else. My job is to keep us all safe. You can tell me how mad you are without hurting me."     
  5. Stay close and connected. An angry, difficult, or defiant child is frightened. They need a calm, strong, adult to help them feel safe enough to settle down and figure out how best to move on. Instead of a time-out, try a time-in, where you stay present and connected.  
  6. Do some role-playing, then reverse the roles. Take turns being your angry child, and being the villain of the piece who made your child angry. Feel free to exaggerate. Use props and costumes if you like. Watch tears turn into laughter and creative solutions arise, as your child feels listened to and understood.  
  7. Create a MAD list of healthy options for managing anger. This might include a few rounds of deep breathing, putting on some music, dancing, going to a happy quiet place, pushing the “Pause” button and counting to ten, going outside for a run, working on a hobby, creating an artistic product that expresses the anger, yelling at a stuffed animal, and lots more.
  8. Help your child identify the warning signs. Help your child notice when they’re getting annoyed, before it escalates. With a young child, prevention is your job: make sure they’re getting a good balance of nutrition, sleep, exercise, and cuddles. As your child gets older, help them see what’s happening before it becomes a problem. That’s a good time to go to the MAD list.
  9. Do some collaborative problem-solving. Your goal is to help your child develop the coping mechanisms they need to navigate life’s challenges without getting angry or defiant. Once the storm has passed, find a quiet moment to discuss what happened, and different ways they might handle things in future. Help them feel more powerful, as they learn to prevent problems and gain control of their own reactions.
  10. Take good care of yourself. You’re teaching your child how to behave every minute you spend with them. Do your best to have good healthhabits yourself—sleep, nutrition, exercise, fresh air—so you can respond well when challenges occur. Do your best to be a good role model of positive emotional regulation, dealing calmly and kindly with life’s challenges.
  11. Be patient. Self-regulation takes years of practice and experience. Many adults never get there, so be patient as your child learns to handle the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
  12. Get help if you need it. Some people are more volatile than others, and require professional help. If you or your child is frequently aggressive, explosive, or oppositional, and these approaches don’t work, you might benefit from getting help.

By helping your child feel safe enough to express their anger and explore the feelings underneath, you will be giving them an essential tool for success with school and friendships, and, eventually, for building healthy adult relationships, succeeding in their work, and parenting their own kids.

5 Foods That Negatively Affect Your Child’s Mood

Written By  |

Published on:

Parents intuitively know that food can impact their child’s behavior and mood. We know that sweets, for example, can cause bouts of hyperactivity. But mood-altering food isn’t limited to sugar – there are other culprits in the snacks and meals that we feed our little ones. The following five foods are the most common contributors to mood and behavioral changes in children.

  1. Dairy – If your child is lactose intolerant or allergic to the proteins found in dairy, you may see changes in her mood and behavior. Many children become irritable, cranky, or aggressive. Children with dairy allergies or intolerance also tend to suffer from frequent colds and ear infections. Babies may exhibit colicky symptoms, whereas toddlers and older children may become inconsolable and irritable.
  2. Artificial Coloring – Many countries have banned artificial coloring due to the detrimental effects these chemicals have on children. Linked to ADHD, anxiety, hyperactivity, and headaches in children, artificial coloring can also cause significant behavioral changes. Because artificial coloring is found in many sugary foods, parents often blame behavioral changes on sugar. Artificial coloring is also often hidden in unexpected foods like bread and yogurt. Avoid products with yellow No. 5, red No. 40, and blue No. 1 if you’re concerned about your child’s mood swings after consuming food with artificial coloring.
  3. Sugar – Sugar can cause a child to be hyperactive, which is often an immediate indicator that sugar is the culprit. However, sugar is in just about everything the average child eats, unless the child is eating a whole foods-based diet. Sugar has been shown to cause long-term health damage, and a diet high in processed foods has been linked to depression, cognitive delay, and sleep problems.
  4. Preservatives – There are several preservatives that may cause behavioral problems in children. They include but are not limited to nitrates, nitrites, and sodium benzoate. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer that also causes mood and behavior changes, including headaches and hyperactivity. Sodium benzoate is commonly found in juice products marketed toward children.
  5. Food Allergens – Common food allergens are dairy, nuts, eggs, soy, and corn. When a child has an intolerance or an allergy to a particular food, it can cause significant health and behavior issues. However, it can be difficult to pinpoint which allergen is making your child sick without the help of an allergist. A food intolerance, for example, is often missed and a child is instead diagnosed with ADHD.

If you notice behavior changes or mood swings in your child, consider keeping a food journal. Track what they eat and when they exhibit concerning behavior. Try eliminating suspicious foods to see if the behavior changes. While food isn’t the cause of all behavioral issues and conditions, it’s important to make sure that your child is not suffering from something that can be easily remedied.

When do babies start teething?

  • Posted by:

When do babies start teething?

Most babies sprout their first tooth when they're between 4 and 7 months old.

An early developer may get his first tooth as early as 3 months, while it may take a late bloomer until he's a year old or more. (In very rare cases, a baby's first tooth is already visible at birth.) Whenever your baby's first toothmakes its appearance, celebrate the milestone by taking pictures and noting the date in your child's baby book.

Teeth actually start developing while your baby is in the womb and tooth buds form in the gums. Teeth break through over a period of months, and they often appear in this order: the bottom two middle teeth first, then the top two middle ones, then those along the sides and back.

Teeth can erupt one at a time, or several can come through at once. They may not all come in straight, but don't worry – they usually straighten out over time.

The last teeth to appear (the second molars, found in the very back of the mouth on the top and bottom) usually come in around your baby's second birthday or in the months after. By age 3, your child should have a full set of 20 baby teeth, and they shouldn't start to fall out until his permanent teeth are ready to start coming in (around age 6).

There's a wide range of normal for when teeth come in, but they do usually appear in a predictable order. Get the scoop on teething and tooth loss. See all baby videos

What are the signs a baby is teething?

Some babies get through teething with no signs at all, but many parents report that their babies do experience discomfort. The most likely signs of teething include:

  • Irritability or fussiness
  • Drooling (which can cause a facial rash)
  • Swollen, sensitive gums
  • Gnawing or chewing behavior
  • Refusing to eat
  • Trouble sleeping

Is it true that teething can cause a fever, diarrhea, or a runny nose?

Some parents say their baby also gets a fever, diarrhea, or a runny nose just before a new tooth arrives, but there's no scientific proof that teething causes these symptoms. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that although a baby's body temperature may rise slightly when teething, a true fever (rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees F or higher) and diarrhea aren't normal symptoms. If your child has a fever along with other symptoms such as lack of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, or diarrhea, call her doctor to rule out anything more serious.

How can I help my teething baby feel better?

  • Give your child something to chew on, like a firm rubber teething ring or a cold washcloth that you've chilled in the refrigerator (not freezer).
  • Rub a clean finger gently but firmly over your baby's sore gums to ease the pain temporarily.
  • If your baby is old enough for solids, he may get some relief from eating cold foods, such as applesauce or yogurt.
  • If your baby is old enough to eat finger foods, it may help him to gnaw on a hard, unsweetened teething biscuit, such as zwieback. Just keep an eye on him and be mindful of choking.

Is it safe to give my baby pain medication?

If gnawing, rubbing, or other common methods to ease teething pain don't work, some doctors recommend giving a baby infants' acetaminophen or ibuprofen (for babies 6 months and older). Ask your baby's doctor for the correct dosage before giving any pain reliever to a child younger than 2.

Are any pain relievers unsafe to give my baby for teething pain?

  • Aspirin: Don't give your baby aspirin (or even rub it on her gums) to ease teething pain because it can lead to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Homeopathic teething tablets and gels: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises parents not to use these products because of reported seizures, breathing problems, and other side effects in children. Researchers at the FDA are investigating these claims, and some manufacturers have stopped distributing them in the United States, but they're still available in some stores and online.
  • Benzocaine: Don't use topical gels or medications containing benzocaine. The FDA warns that the use of teething products can lead to methemoglobinemia, a rare and serious (sometimes fatal) condition in which the amount of oxygen in the blood drops dangerously low.


Further information and new exciting articles, visit .

Kids Play the Way Scientists Work

Written By By Ashley P. Taylor

Article Published By

Kids are natural scientists, it turns out.

In an article published last week in Science, psychologist Alison Gopnik reviewed the literature about the way young children learn, and she finds that the way preschoolers play is very similar to the way scientists do experiments: Kids come up with general principles, akin to scientific theories, based on the data of their daily lives. Gopnik argues that the research should steer educators and policy makers away from more-regimented, dogmatic kinds of preschool instruction.

Scientists have known for a while—as do most new parents—that babies and small children are phenomenally quick on the uptake. Little ones spend most of their time systematically exploring the world through trial and error, and they grasp what seem like complex concepts very quickly. Babies, we know, have an intuitive grasp of probability: In one experiment, researchers showed babies a box filled mostly with white balls and a few red ones, then drew out a sample of balls and showed it to the baby. If the sample was mostly red balls, the baby looked longer at it than if it were mostly white balls. The infant knew that drawing several red balls out of the bin was unlikely, and therefore noteworthy. Toddlers, multiple experiments have shown, can test hypotheses about how machines work—for example, they can figure out which blocks made a machine play when some but not all blocks trigger the toy.

We have to be careful, though. This exploratory, quasi-scientific approach to the world doesn’t last if adults teach kids to do something else: Kids will let adult instruction override their natural curiosity. Gopnik cites an experiment in which a teacher bumped into a toy and made it squeak, as if by accident, then left the kid alone to play with the toy. The child made the toy squeak, but also figured out several other things about it. When the teacher said, “Here is my toy,” and then made the toy squeak, the child left alone with the plaything only imitated what the teacher had done. Researchers titled the paper about the squeaky-toy experiment “The Double-Edged Sword of Pedagogy.” After the “lesson,” the kids ended up learning less about the toy than they would have if left to simply play.

All this research, Gopnik concludes, argues against adding more instruction to preschool curricula. Let the little scientists play and the world will teach them what they want to know.

10 Current Psychology Studies Every Parent Should Know

Published by
Whether parents are happier than non-parents, why siblings are so different, the perils of discipline, bedtimes, TV and more…

One of the many reasons parenting is an impossible job is that everyone is giving you advice, and much of it is rubbish.

Frankly, it’s amazing we’ve all made it this far.

So, bucking the trend of random anecdote and superstition, here are ten recent psychology studies that every parent should know.

1. Parents are happier than non-parents

In recent years some studies have suggested that the pleasures of having children are outweighed by the pains.

“Ha!” said parents to themselves, secretly, “I knew it!”

Not so fast though: new research has found that, on average, parents feel better than non-parents each day and derive more pleasure from caring for their children than from other activities (Nelson et al.,. 2013).

Fathers, in particular, derive high levels of positive emotions and happiness from their children.

2. Putting your child first is worth it

Underlining the pleasures of having children, research finds that child-centric attitudes are beneficial.

A study by Ashton-James et al. (2013) found that parents who were the most child-centric were also happier and derived greater meaning in life from having children.

Performing child-care activities was associated with greater meaning and fewer negative feelings.

“These findings suggest that the more care and attention people give to others, the more happiness and meaning they experience. From this perspective, the more invested parents are in their children’s well-being — that is, the more ‘child centric’ parents are — the more happiness and meaning they will derive from parenting.” (Ashton-James et al., 2013)

So, what’s good for your kids, is also good for you.

3. Helicopter parenting may be depressing

As with many things in life, though, it’s a fine line between caring and smothering; especially when children have grown up.

Schiffrin et al. (2013) asked 297 undergraduate students about their parents’ behaviour and how they felt about it.

The study found links between ‘helicopter parenting’ and higher levels of depression amongst the students, as well as lower levels of autonomy, relatedness and competence.

“Parents should keep in mind how developmentally appropriate their involvement is and learn to adjust their parenting style when their children feel that they are hovering too closely.” (Schiffrin et al., 2013)

4. Avoid strict discipline

Around 90% of American parents admit at least one instance of using strict verbal discipline with their children, such as calling names or swearing at them.

Rather than helping keep adolescents in line, though, be aware that this may just exacerbate the problem.

A study of 967 US families found that harsh verbal discipline at 13-years-old predicted worse behaviour in the next year (Wang et al., 2013).

And it didn’t help if parents had a strong bond with their children. The study’s lead author Ming-Te Wang explained:

“The notion that harsh discipline is without consequence, once there is a strong parent-child bond–that the adolescent will understand that ‘they’re doing this because they love me’–is misguided because parents’ warmth didn’t lessen the effects of harsh verbal discipline. Indeed, harsh verbal discipline appears to be detrimental in all circumstances.”

5. Regular bedtimes

Regular bedtimes really matter to children’s developing brains.

Researchers followed 11,000 children from when they were 3-years old to the age of 7 to measure the effects of bedtimes on cognitive function, (Kelly et al., 2013).

The researchers found that:

“…irregular bedtimes at 3 years of age were associated with lower scores in reading, maths, and spatial awareness in both boys and girls, suggesting that around the age of 3 could be a sensitive period for cognitive development.”

Regular bedtimes are important for both boys and girls and the earlier these can be implemented, the better for cognitive performance.

6. Do the chores together

Bringing up happy children is easier if Mum and Dad’s relationship isn’t too rocky. One frequent bone of contention between parents is the chores.

A trick for achieving marital satisfaction over the chores is to do them together.

When partners perform their chores at the same time–no matter who is doing what–both people are more satisfied with the division of labour (Galovan et al., 2013).

7. Limit infant TV viewing

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should watch no more than two hours of TV per day after two years of age, and none before that age.

Here’s why: a new study that followed almost 2,000 Canadian children from birth found that an extra hour’s TV viewing at 2.5-years-old predicted worse performance later when they attended kindergarten (Pagani et al., 2013).

The more children exceeded this recommendation at 2.5 years old, the worse their vocabulary, math and motor skills were at 5-years-old.

More on this study: One Extra Hour of TV Reduces Toddlers’ Kindergarten Chances

8. Exercise boosts kids’ school performance

Kids are increasingly sedentary and, as I frequently write here on PsyBlog, exercise is a wonderful way to boost brain power, and it has many other benefits (see 20 Wonderful Effects Exercise Has on the Mind).

A new study of 11-year-olds has found that moderate to vigorous exercise was associated with increased academic performance in English, Maths and Science (Booth et al., 2013).

These gains from exercise were also seen in exams taken at 16-years-old.

Interestingly, girls’ science results benefited the most from extra exercise.

9. Dangers of intense mothering

Some women say that taking care of children is more stressful than being at work. There are also links between child-rearing and stress and guilt.

How can we square this with the reports and research findings that children fill your life with joy and meaning?

It may be down to differences in attitudes to parenting. In particular, being an ‘intense mother’ may be bad for you.

In their study of 181 mothers of children under 5, Rizzo et al. (2012)found that mothers who most strongly endorsed the idea that children were sacred and that women are better parents than men, were more likely to be depressed and experience less satisfaction with life.

Yes, nurture your children, but don’t sacrifice your own mental health.

10. Why siblings are so different

Anyone with more than one child will have noticed a curious thing: their personalities are often very dissimilar.

In fact, according to a study by Plomin and Daniels (1987), siblings have no more in common in their personalities than two completely unrelated strangers.

This is very weird given that 50% of their genetic code is identical.

The answer isn’t in the genes at all, but in the environment in which children grow up.

Far from having the same environments, each child has:

  • a different relationship with their parents,
  • a different relationship with their other siblings,
  • different friends and experiences at school…

…and so on.

And all these differences add up to quite remarkable dissimilarities between siblings–often such that if they didn’t look alike, you’d never know they were related.

All this means, of course, that because their personalities are often so different, parenting strategies that work with one child, may not work with another.

It’s just one more challenge of being a parent!

Image credit: Paolo Marconi

New studies show good reading does to toddler’s brain


I loved reading to my boy when he was little. From the very first days after we brought him home from the hospital, he was on my lap and I was reading to him. His room looked like the children’s section of a library.

I always figured it had to do him some good. At the very least, it would make him a lifelong reader, like it did me. (Yes, it worked!)

It’s not like I came with up with this on my own, however. The experts always have known reading to young children is good for them. What they couldn’t explain was the mechanics behind it all. Now two new studies have shown just how good reading to little ones is for their brains and what all is going on, according to a New York Times story.

Turns out a lot of very complex things ares happening when you snuggle up with a child and read aloud, says Dr. Perri Klass, well-known pediatrician and longtime advocate of reading to children. She is the author of the NYT’s piece.

One of the studies looked at the brain activity of toddlers (ages 3-5) while someone was reading to them. The amount of brain activity varied depending on how much time was spent reading to them, the researchers discovered. There was more activity with those whose parents or caretakes read to them, particularly in one region of the brain, which usually occurs later, when children read books to themselves. This study shows it happens when they are younger as well and when someone else is doing the reading, according to Klass. Basically it shows that when young children are listening to a story they also are visualizing it in their heads, something that wasn’t known before, Klass says.

The researchers think kids who have this ability at a young age are ahead of the game when it comes to making images and stories of their own out of words.

Researchers already knew that reading to children expands their vocabulary. But the second study Klass wrote about also determined that the storybooks being read to toddlers expose young ones to words they aren’t hearing elsewhere, thus  bringing even more words into their vocabulary.  (This immediately reminds me of the word “newel post” that was in one of my son’s ABC books. Certainly that is not a term I would have spoken to him!)

So, turn off that TV (sorry, studies show visualization of words on TV doesn’t have the same positive impact) and cuddle up with your little one with a book. What you’re doing for the development of their brain is pretty amazing.

And here’s some added bonuses: you’ll always have a way to calm them down and when they do get to school, they will know what behavior is expected of them when it’s storybook time.

A pair of new studies sheds light on toddler sleep

Published by:

In the basement of a building on the University of Colorado Boulder’s east campus, sleep researchers have been busy trying to explain one of the biggest mysteries of parenting: Why won’t my child just go to sleep?

The Sleep and Development Lab, headed up by integrative physiology Assistant Professor Monique LeBourgeois, specializes in early childhood sleep: why it’s important, what happens when there isn’t enough of it and why sometimes it seems so hard to come by.

This fall, researchers at the lab published two new studies, one of which explains why some toddlers take so long to drift off. The problem, according to the study published in the journal Mind, Brain and Education, may be that the child’s bedtime doesn’t coincide with his or her biological clock.

The researchers recorded the time in the evening when the hormone melatonin increased, signaling the start of the biological night, in 14 toddlers. They found that toddlers who were put to bed before their melatonin increased took longer to actually fall asleep.

“There is relatively little research out there on how the physiology of toddlers may contribute to the emergence of sleep problems,” said LeBourgeois. “Sleeping at the wrong ‘biological clock’ time leads to sleep difficulties, like insomnia, in adults.”

While adults get to choose their own bedtime, toddlers rarely have this option. “This study is the first to show that a poor fit between bedtimes selected by the parents of toddlers and the rise in their evening melatonin production increases their likelihood of nighttime settling difficulties,” said LeBourgeois.

The findings are important because about 25 percent of toddlers and preschoolers have problems settling after bedtime, said LeBourgeois.  Evening sleep disturbance can include difficulties falling asleep, bedtime resistance, tantrums, and episodes known as “curtain calls” that manifest themselves as calling out from bed or coming out of the bedroom, often repeatedly, for another story, glass of water or bathroom trip.

Getting enough sleep as a toddler may be critical to the maturing of the child’s brain, according to the second study published this fall, this one led by Salome Kurth, a postdoctoral researcher in the Sleep and Development Lab.

Kurth used electroencephalograms, or EEGs, to measure the brain activity of eight sleeping children multiple times at the ages of 2, 3 and 5 years for the study published in the journal Brain Sciences. “Interestingly, during a night of sleep, connections weakened within hemispheres but strengthened between hemispheres,” Kurth said.

Scientists have known that the brain changes drastically during early childhood: New connections are formed, others are removed and a fatty layer called “myelin” forms around nerve fibers in the brain. The growth of myelin strengthens the connections by speeding up the transfer of information.

Maturation of nerve fibers leads to improvement in skills such as language, attention and impulse control. But it is still not clear what role sleep plays in the development of such brain connections—or how sleep disruption during childhood may affect brain development and behavior, though the lab is already involved in studies that they hope will shed light on those questions.

“I believe inadequate sleep in childhood may affect the maturation of the brain related to the emergence of developmental or mood disorders,” Kurth said.

Study finds newborn baby smell is addictive

Study finds newborn baby smell is addictive

By Kirsten Andersen (

MONTREAL, September 30, 2013 ( – Craving the smell of your newborn baby?  Scientists at the University of Montreal can explain why.  Researcher Johannes Frasnelli and an international team of scientists studied the brains of 30 women – 15 mothers who had given birth three to six weeks prior, and 15 who had never had babies – and found that especially for new moms, the smell of a newborn baby activates the same pleasure and reward centers in a woman’s brain as drugs do for an addict, or food does for the hungry.

In other words, new babies really do smell good enough to eat – and good enough to create real physical cravings.

“What we have shown for the first time is that the odor of newborns, which is part of these signals, activates the neurological reward circuit in mothers,” Frasnelli said in a press release announcing the study’s publication.  “These circuits may especially be activated when you eat while being very hungry, but also in a craving addict receiving his drug. It is in fact the sating of desire.”

To study the neurological effects of new baby smell, Frasnelli and a team of scientists at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on the brains of 30 women as they sniffed pajamas that had been worn by newborn babies for their first two days of life.  Half of the women studied were brand new mothers, while half were childless. 

While both groups showed activation of the brain’s dopaminergic system, or “reward center” in response to the scent of the babies, new moms got by far biggest boost.  The smell of a newborn baby provides moms with a hit of dopamine, the brain’s “pleasure chemical,” therefore rewarding the mom who cuddles her baby close with strong feelings of positivity and well-being. 

“Not all odors trigger this reaction,” said Frasnelli. “Only those associated with reward, such as food or satisfying a desire, cause this activation.”

Frasnelli told NPR he thinks the physiological rewards tied to a baby’s scent are what seal the bond between mothers and their babies despite the difficulty of the early days of parenting.

“[Y]ou're living your life as a couple, everything is going fine and all of the sudden you have this little human being in your life that is actually, if you look at it from an objective point of view, actually pretty annoying,” said Frasnelli. “Everything the baby does is sleeping, crying, and other than that you have to change the diapers. Still, most of the parents say this is the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me. And so how does this work? And we think the sense of smell helps us to understand the mechanisms that make this very strong attachment.”

Better safe than sorry: Babies make quick judgments about adults’ anger

Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences

Adults often form fast opinions about each other’s personalities, especially when it comes to negative traits. If we see someone argue with another driver over a parking space, for instance, we may assume that person tends to be confrontational.

Two new research studies with hundreds of 15-month-old infants demonstrate that babies form similar generalizations about others and make attempts to appease adults they consider prone to anger.

The research, by scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS), reveal for the first time that 15-month-old babies generalize an adult’s angry behavior even if the social context has changed.

“Our research suggests that babies will do whatever they can to avoid being the target of anger,” said lead author Betty Repacholi, an I-LABS faculty scientist. “At this young of an age, they have already worked out a way to stay safe. It’s a smart, adaptive response.”

In one of the studies, published in the March issue of Developmental Psychology, Repacholi and co-authors wanted to see how exposing babies to an unfamiliar adult’s anger toward another adult would affect the babies’ behavior in a new situation. Do the babies assume that the initial negative encounters would happen again?

“Our research shows that babies are carefully paying attention to the emotional reactions of adults,” said co-author Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of I-LABS.

“Babies make snap judgments as to whether an adult is anger-prone. They pigeonhole adults more quickly than we thought,” added Meltzoff, who holds the Job and Gertrud Tamaki Endowed Chair at UW.

The experiment went like this: The babies, 270 15-months-old that included a mix of boys and girls, sat on their parents’ laps across the table from a researcher called the “Experimenter.”

The baby saw the Experimenter demonstrating how to play with a series of toys. In each trial, a second researcher, the “Emoter,” reacted in either a neutral way (“That’s entertaining.”) or negative way by saying “That’s aggravating!” in a stern voice when the Experimenter performed her action on the toy. The Emoter’s reaction was the same for each toy.

Then the baby had a chance to play with the same toy.

The researchers measured how readily the babies imitated the Experimenter’s actions. Babies who witnessed the angry outburst were less likely to play with the toy or to duplicate the adult’s actions than babies who saw a neutral reaction from the Emoter. (Watch a videofrom an earlier study demonstrating the experiment.)

Next, the Experimenter showed the baby how to play with a new toy. This time, however, the previously angry Emoter now appeared to be neutral.

“We wanted to see if babies would treat the anger they had seen before as a one-off event or whether they see it as being part of the person’s character,” Repacholi said.

When given the chance to play with the new toy, the babies who knew the Emoter’s angry history avoided playing with the toy, compared with the babies who were in the neutral group.

“It’s as if the baby doesn’t trust that the Emoter is now calm,” Repacholi said. “Once babies have detected that someone’s prone to anger, it’s hard to dismiss. They’re taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach, where they’re not going to take a risk even though the situation has apparently changed.”

A second new study by Repacholi, Meltzoff and team suggests that babies are capable of coming up with appeasement gestures in situations involving anger-prone adults. Thefindings are published online and will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Infancy.

Using a similar experimental setup, another group of babies — 72 15-month-olds, with an even number of boys and girls — first observed either the “angry” or “neutral” Emoter’s reaction to toys used by the Experimenter.

Then, the twist: the Experimenter brought out new toys designed to be highly desirable to the infants, such as a toy with a small ball that lit up when rotated.

Sitting on their parents’ laps, the babies got to play with the appealing toy briefly before the Emoter — who had a neutral facial expression and wasn’t showing any anger at this point — asked for a turn.

What did the babies do? Those who had previously seen the Emoter be angry readily relinquished the toys. That is, 69 percent of babies in the “anger” group gave up the toys compared to 46 percent of babies in the “neutral” group.

“I was so surprised to see the infants give the toys away — it was like they were appeasing or compromising with the adult,” Repacholi said. “They didn’t want to risk making the previously angry adult mad again. They didn’t act this way with the other adult who had not shown anger.”

Together the studies illustrate how babies:

  • make quick judgments about people’s emotional qualities
  • can have negative emotions dominate their perceptions of a person’s character, and
  • tend to assume a person with a history of anger will become angry again even if the situation has changed.

“Our studies show that babies are very tuned into other people’s anger,” Repacholi said. “For parents, it’s important to be mindful of how powerful that emotion is for babies.”

Added Meltzoff, “The babies are ‘emotion detectives.’ They watch and listen to our emotions, remember how we acted in the past, and use this to predict how we will act in the future. How long these first impressions last is an important question.”

The Developmental Psychology paper was funded by the UW Royalty Research Fund and the Ready Mind Project Fund, and co-authored by Tamara Spiewak Toub and Ashley Ruba. The Infancy paper was co-authored by Theresa Hennings and Ashley Ruba.

New research ends an age-old debate: Will you spoil your baby if you pick it up each time it cries?

POSTED 2:02 PM, FEBRUARY 1, 2016, BY

Parents, no pressure, but the success of our future society depends on you!

New research points to cuddled children growing up to be healthier, less depressed, kinder, more empathetic, and more productive adults.

According to a WSBT report, "snuggles matter."

The new research from Notre Dame Psychologist Darcia Narvaez studied more than 600 adults and found those who were cuddled as children grew into more well-adjusted adults with less anxiety and better mental health.

The study found that, along with cuddling, a positive childhood with lots of affection and quality time also led to healthier adults with better coping skills.

The research will soon be featured in the journal Applied Developmental Science.

Much research has already been done on the effects of how cuddling helps preemies, and now that researchers are seeing benefits all the way up to adulthood, it just goes to show what the Beatles knew all along - all you need is love.

This research also puts an end to an age-old debate - you may now tell your mother-in-law that you can't "spoil" your baby by picking them up when they cry.

In fact, Narvaez tells WSBT that not only is it impossible to spoil a baby, you will actually "ruin" the baby's development by letting it cry.

"What parents do in those early months and years are really affecting the way the brain is going to grow the rest of their lives, so lots of holding, touching and rocking, that is what babies expect. They grow better that way. And keep them calm, because all sorts of systems are establishing the way they are going to work. If you let them cry a lot, those systems are going to be easily triggered into stress. We can see that in adult hood, that people that are not cared for well, tend to be more stress reactive and they have a hard time self calming," said Narvaez.

So, parents, snuggle away! Your child - and the world - will thank you later.