Toddlers with low empathy at risk for future behavior problems

Posted on October 20, 2014

Photo: flickr

Toddlers who don’t feel guilty after bad behavior or who are less affectionate or less responsive to affection may be at risk for greater behavior problems by the time they enter first grade, according to a new study by the University of Michigan (UM).

Furthermore, when these behavior problems still aren’t resolved in elementary school, children are more likely to become aggressive and violent as teens and adults.

Adults who are aggressive or violent have often shown early-starting behavior problems as young children. Thus, a focus on understanding the emergence and development of behavior problems before they become severe is important for creating new treatments that could help prevent children following a lifetime of violence or crime.

A key thing for parents and educators to take from this work is that many children during the preschool years show normative levels of behavior problems and aggression, but there may be different types of behavior problems that may need different interventions if the behavior is not declining as children get towards school age. For example, children with callous and unemotional behavior may be the most at risk and need therapy that teaches empathy.

If parents or teachers are concerned about a child’s behavior, they should seek out a mental health provider such as a clinical psychologist, who is trained in a treatment called Parent Management Training. This treatment is very effective and can help a child learn better behavior, particularly early in childhood.

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Source material from Psych Central