Forget all the parenting books that say the toddler years are a
great time to introduce time outs or similar punishments for temper
tantrums and other emotional outbursts. Punishing toddlers'
negative behavior may lead to behavioral problems later on,
especially for boys, found a new study by the University of
"If you punish toddlers for their anger and frustration or
act as if their fears are silly or shameful, they may internalize
those negative emotions and that may lead to behavior problems as
they get older," says researcher Nancy McElwain, associate
professor of human development at the university.
Researchers used data gleaned from observations of 107
toddlers who were part of a larger study on parent-child
relationships and children's emotional development. When the
children were 33 months old, parents were asked how often their
child had displayed anger or social anxiety in the last month, and
how they would respond to several hypothetical situations. Six
months later, parents answered questionnaires about their child's
current behavior problems.
Parents who were apt to punish their toddlers for their
fears and frustrations, such as sending the child to his room or
taking away a privilege, were more likely to have children who were
anxious and withdrawn. Boys who had displayed a high incidence of
negative emotions at 33 months were especially affected at 39
months if their parents used punishment as a means of dealing with
"In our culture, boys are discouraged from expressing
their emotions. If you add parental punishment to these cultural
expectations, the outcome for boys who often experience negative
emotions may be especially detrimental," says the study's lead
author Jennifer Engle.
So how should you deal with toddler temper
"When children are upset, it's better if you can talk with
them and help them work through their emotions rather than sending
them to their room to work through their feelings on their own,"
says Engle. "Young children, especially little boys who are prone
to feeling negative emotions intensely, need your comfort and
support when their emotions threaten to overwhelm them."
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