It’s every parent’s nightmare – the beautiful, blissful little baby you’ve nurtured and adored has suddenly morphed into a demonic toddler who more resembles a weapon of mass-destruction than mummy’s pride and joy.
For most kids, the toddler phase will pass, and a happy, well-adjusted child will emerge, but some kids seem hell-bent on remaining brats, and the blame for their bad behaviour often has other parents whispering about lack of discipline and poor parenting.
But if this sounds like your child, take heart – researchers at the University of Arizona have identified a gene that they believe may cause non-compliant and aggressive behaviours.
The study examined the behaviour of 138 children aged between 18 months and 4.5 years, and took into account their mothers’ parenting behaviour. It found that, regardless of the parenting techniques employed by their mothers, children who possessed a particular variation in the SLC6A4 gene were more likely to display non-compliant behaviours than those who did not.
The SLC6A4 gene helps transport serotonin, an important chemical messenger in the body linked to well-being. Variations of this gene have also been associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The study also found that children who possessed the variation were more sensitive to parenting style, so while parenting style did not contribute to the cause of the behaviour itself, negative parenting techniques may exacerbate the poor behaviour, whereas positive parenting techniques may serve to improve behaviour.
"The findings support the notion that SLC6A4 haplotypes index differential susceptibility to variability in parenting quality, with certain haplotypes showing greater reactivity to both supportive and unsupportive environments," researchers wrote in the journal Developmental Psychology.