Preschool behavior could predict addiction later in life

By Shayna Brouker • Published: August 2nd, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

That preschool progress report just might predict your child’s future. No parent wants to imagine their sweet toddler growing up to be a gambler, alcoholic or drug addict, but a new study found that these disorders can be predicted based on a toddler’s behavior.

An ongoing study of more than 1,000 children in New Zealand found that children with “undercontrolled” temperaments at age 3 were more than twice as likely as well-behaved kids to face problems with gambling down the road at age 21 and 32. Psychologists found that about 10 percent of toddlers exhibited such undercontrolled behavior as an inability to control themselves, unpredictable mood swings, impulsiveness and negative feelings.

As adults, they felt alienated, expressed negative emotions and tended to be less socially agreeable than their cohorts. And they faced difficulty with addiction, especially gambling. Scientists think the study gives evidence to the idea that personality plays a large role in such behaviors — but caution that a disagreeable child isn’t sentenced to a life of sitting at slot machines. Rather, it highlights the need to look below the surface symptoms when treating addiction.

The good news for parents is that self-control is a personality trait that can be trained, and it starts at the source. Parents can teach self-control to kids starting around 18 months by modeling it themselves. Don’t use food as a reward and avoid physical punishment. Set rules and limits that make sense and be sure to explain them to your children. For example, explain that the limit for T-V time is one hour a day because it’s important to get physical activity. Knowing how to say “no” to their favorite cartoons now just might just help refuse the urge to clean out the casino.