Research warns melt downs could signal a darker side to a child’s personality.

Experts have identified clues that can suggest whether the ‘terrible twos’ is just a blip, or if they are actions that are likely to escalate to aggression, stealing and bullying, as reported by The Daily Mail.

They studied ‘callous-unemotional’ behaviours in the toddler years that include:

  • lack of empathy,l
  • lying and
  • little emotion in children who would likely have the worst behaviour problems years later.

They said these children are likely to end up bullying others despite the consequences or how the victim feels.

More Than The Terrible Twos

Dr Luke Hyde, assistant professor at the University of Michigan, and lead author of the study, said: ‘These are signs for parents and doctors to watch out for, as they may signal more than just the terrible twos.’

In fact, when these behaviours are not corrected, children could get into trouble with the law later in life, he warned.

Most Criminals Start Antisocial Behaviour As Toddlers

While most children grow out of the ‘terrible twos’ to become well adjusted, research has shown that most career criminals started their antisocial behaviour during their toddler years.

Callous-unemotional behaviours are very distinct from other behaviour problems, said Professor Jenae Neiderhiser, at Penn State University.

She said: ‘If we can identify these kids early we may have a better chance of intervening in a child’s development.’

Beyond identifying these behaviours as early signs of trouble, the researchers’ work sheds light on the origins of the behaviours.

Harsh And Negative Parenting Can Be The Cause

Decades of research have shown that harsh and negative parenting is linked to the development of antisocial behaviour.

Dr Hyde said: ‘The challenge in this research has been knowing the true origins of these behaviours because parents both take care of their child and provide their child’s genes.

‘So, it’s been difficult to know if we’re seeing that parenting causes callous-unemotional behaviours, or is just a sign of the genes being passed to the child.’

Positive Re-Inforcement Can Alter Bad Behaviour

‘The really exciting take-home message from this study is that small, day-to-day positive interactions that parents have with their young children can make a huge difference in children’s development,’ said Leslie Leve, a professor at the University of Oregon who co-led the collection of the data for this study.

‘Even when a child has inherited a very challenging set of behaviours, hearing ‘good job’ or receiving a pat on the back can help protect that child from developing serious problems stemming from their inherited difficulties.’

The study, which is supported by the National Institutes of Health and Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute, is published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Share your comments below.

Image via Shutterstock

  • Thought the terrible twos was just a phrase where the child just expressing their own emotions. Where they are learning to push parents or careers buttons. It’s their way of learning.
    Don’t really think that how a 2 year old behaves will indicate how they will be as a person when they are older.
    Yes, growing up is a huge part of the childs life and how they are raised. But as a teenager or young adult they can change if they don’t like how they have become.
    Why not let kids be kids and stop doing studies on them.


  • Good parenting makes a world of difference to kids.


  • too many studies, too many scientific opinions.
    How about we just try to guyde our children with their best interests at heart.
    at this rate I would think just about anything I do as a parent, or anything my children so when theyre young could potentially lead to horrible horrible futures.


  • I always though the terrible 2s came about because they were frustrated about being able to communicate, but not enough. My boy skipped these, my daughter started just before 2 and hasn’t really stopped. Lol


  • Wow, this is very interesting. I’ll be interested to see if all the kids who have meltdowns become bullies or criminals.


  • Unfortunately some children are scared to express emotion even when little, especially boys as they are discouraged from doing so. Issues are not discussed in a rational way and some little ones simply get so confused because they are getting “mixed” responses. Some become bad communicators from a early age and parents don’t try to get through that barrier as much as they should. Some act up to get attention as that is the only way they get any, especially if one child is blatantly favoured over another. Pretty bad when the parent openly admits to it……Even some adults were bad communicaters during childhood struggle as adults, and have to think what they should say..


  • Remember the show ….5 and up?
    That was an amazing study and something I really believe to be true.
    Once a child is 5 years old you pretty much can see the adult and know what that adult will be like.
    Those first 5 years are very, very important.


  • I like The research had a lot of hope with suggesting how to reduce callous behaviour… Positive interactions and encouragement. Because otherwise parents would start freaking out when tantrums occur!


  • Some children really draw the short straw when it comes to their parents. Encouragement also needs to come from extended family, friends, teachers etc. It takes just one person to have some faith in a child to really make a difference to that child’s future.


  • There are so many variables to predicting anything that young, though…


  • If the antisocial behaviour really starts at that age, it’s good to make further investigations. It could be of great help.


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