Keep calm & procreate on: High-strung moms more likely to have badly-behaved children

Research shows children with level-headed mothers are less likely to develop behavior issues

PROVO, Utah — Even-keeled mothers who possess a strong ability to control their emotions and calmly come up with effective problem-solving strategies on the fly are less likely to have children who throw tantrums, fight with others, or exhibit other behavioral issues throughout their lives, a new study finds.

“When you lose control of your life, that impacts how you parent,” says Ali Crandall, an assistant professor of public health at Brigham Young University, in a release. “That chaos both directly and indirectly influences your child’s behavior.”

Mother with child at sunset
Even-keeled mothers who are able to control their emotions and calmly come up with problem-solving strategies on the fly are less likely to have children with behavioral problems, a new study finds.

Crandall, along with researchers from Johns Hopkins and Virginia Tech universities collaborated to study the habits of 152 mothers with young children (between ages 3 and 7). Participants completed questionnaires surveying their ability to keep it together during stressful moments. Questions polled them on the frequency of “angry outbursts” and moments they “overreact to small problems.”

Executive functioning — which oversees how one problem-solves, plans and organizes, caters to goals, and manages chaos — was also measured through various tasks. Overall attitudes toward parenting, frequency of harsh verbal spats with their kids, and the children’s behavior were also surveyed.

The authors found that the moms who were most level-headed when it came to keeping their emotions in check were less likely to speak to their children in a harsh fashion. Prior research has linked harsh maternal parenting to child behavior issues.

Similarly, those who held onto their wits and kept control cognitively also demonstrated less controlling parenting attitudes, which the authors say is also strongly associated with a child’s conduct.

The study showed that high-strung mothers were more likely to see their children throw fits when they didn’t get what they wanted or exhibit poor behavior towards other children when stressed. They were also more prone to viewing challenging behavior from kids in a highly negative light, causing them to lose control. To lessen the chances of such outbursts for both mom and child, women who get easily wound up should seek out methods to better control their emotions and own behavior when tough situations. Being more aware of physiological stress signals when they occur can help keep a situation from going haywire.

“There are some clear ‘signals’ that our supply of self control is being run down — when we are feeling distracted, irritable, and tired,” adds study co-author Kirby Deater-Deckard, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Parents can practice recognizing these signals in themselves when they are occurring, and respond by taking a ‘time out’ if at all possible — just as we might do with our child when we notice these signals in them.”

Of course, taking care of your body is an easy way to develop healthy behaviors, says Crandall.

“Getting enough sleep, exercising enough and eating well are all things that impact our executive functioning,” she says. “We should create healthy environments that help us operate at our best.”

The full study was published May 25, 2018 in the journal Family Relations.