Children whose parents are stressed or argue while they’re young are more likely to become bad-tempered two-year-olds
- Researchers in the US, UK and Netherlands followed more than 400 families
- Children were likely to be restless if their mothers had stressful pregnancies
- And they could end up clingy or tearful if parents argued while they were infants
- Genetics, stress chemicals or ‘spillover’ from fights could be to blame
Stressed or argumentative parents are more likely to have bad-tempered first-born children, a study has found.
Research showed that stress or anxiety in either parent during pregnancy or infancy could raise the risk of a first child developing emotional problems.
Temper tantrums, restlessness and spitefulness could all be linked back to the mother’s mental state while she was pregnant.
And parents’ rows or relationship troubles before the child turns two could make it more likely to be unhappy or clingy as it grows up.
Scientists said the findings showed it was important to offer support to both the mother and father before the birth of their child, for the baby’s sake.
Two-year-olds whose mother was stressed while pregnant or argued with their father while the child was an infant were more likely to have temper tantrums or be clingy (stock image)
Researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Birmingham, New York and Leiden in the Netherlands worked together on the study.
They surveyed 404 couples towards the end of pregnancy, and when the child was four, 14 and 24 months old.
Parents were told to rate the quality of their own relationship with one another and also the behaviour of their own child.
And experts interviewed the families in depth and did home visits to assess their emotional wellbeing.
‘Our results [add to evidence] which shows consistent associations between interparental conflict and child maladjustment,’ wrote the researchers, led by Professor Claire Hughes from Cambridge’s Centre for Family Research.
‘HELICOPTER PARENTING’ COULD CAUSE SCHOOL AND SOCIAL DIFFICULTIES
Children who have helicopter parents may be more likely to struggle at school and become badly behaved, according to research.
Youngsters with parents who hover over them and dictate what they do may be less likely to cope with the challenges of growing up.
The research, done by the University of Minnesota and published last year, said children need to learn the ‘fundamental skills’ of managing their own emotions and behaviour, but overwhelming parents could limit their ability to do so.
In a study which observed children whose parents were demanding, the researchers found some of the youngsters became ‘defiant’, ‘apathetic’ or ‘frustrated’.
Examples of ‘helicopter parenting’ in the study included: telling a child what toy to play with, how to play with it and how to clean up after playtime.
It is important for parents to discuss their child’s emotions with them, the experts said, and to set good examples in their own behaviour as well as teaching them healthy coping strategies.
Children who are encouraged to handle difficult situations on their own grow up with better mental and physical health, stronger relationships and more academic success, they added.
‘Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up,’ said Dr Nicole Perry, lead author of the study.
‘Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school.
They said it provides ‘evidence that parental relationship quality in the first months of life may have adverse consequences on children as early as the second year of life.’
Two-year-olds were also found to be more likely to be worried, to cry a lot or be easily scared if their parents were on bad terms while they were an infant.
Parents’ problems could range anywhere from being unhappy generally, or to regularly having full-blown rows.
The research was observational so couldn’t explain why children suffered these effects, but the team suggested genetics could play a role – that is, people more likely to argue may be more likely to have troubled children.
And there could also be ‘spillover’ from arguments or conflict, which mean the child doesn’t feel emotionally stable or secure.
Chemicals may play a role during pregnancy, with stress hormones such as cortisol passed into the foetus from anxious mothers.
But the wellbeing of the father was critically important as well as that of the mother, the team said, and may have been overlooked in the past.
Professor Hughes said: ‘For too long, the experiences of first-time dads has either been side-lined or treated in isolation from that of mums.
‘This needs to change because difficulties in children’s early relationships with both mothers and fathers can have long-term effects.’
All the families chosen for the study were co-habiting first-time parents expecting a healthy baby, with stable lives and no mental illness or addiction history.
During the study the team found that fathers were affected ‘far more than has previously been recognised’ by traumatic births of their partners.
Dr Sarah Foley, also from Cambridge’s family research centre, added: ‘We need to make antenatal support much more inclusive and give first-time mums and dads the tools they need to communicate with each other and better prepare them for this major transition.
‘With resources stretched, parents are missing out on the support they need.’
The research was published in the journal Archives of Women’s Mental Health.