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Could your 'mild rule-breaker' child actually have the CEO gene?




Laura Haugh

Laura Haugh

Peadar Maxwell

Peadar Maxwell

ceo gene

ceo gene



We've all witnessed (or been) a child who likes to break the rules. But while the natural instinct is to reprimand and haul them back into line, a new study has revealed that 'mild rule-breakers' could have what is known as the 'CEO gene'.

Psychologists from Kansas State University analysed health data covering 13,000 adults and discovered the influence of a gene called DAT1, which transports the chemical dopamine to the brain.

They found that in children, DAT1 leads to 'mild' rule-breaking and in adults to leadership qualities found in successful high-flying chief executives.

We spoke to parents and experts to find out whether or not they believe being 'naughty' is a sign of potential success.

Gillian O'Hare (below) lives in Bray with her husband Des and children Jack (6) and Grace (4). Her daughter is something of a rule-breaker and Gillian, who works in accounts, believes this may be of benefit to her in later life.

"I think that some children who break rules are testing, and that translates into adults who are more willing to try new things and take risks.

"I think they would be inclined to question the status quo in their professional lives which in turn would provide much more opportunities in the workplace.

"Of my two children Grace is much more inclined to break the rules; in fact, recently she was put into time-out outside the classroom in her pre-school for being cheeky.

"Grace tends to ignore us when we are giving instructions or she will be very giddy which can lead to her being cheeky. I believe her rule-breaking in school can at times stem from boredom. She needs to be kept busy and engaged at all times as she is so eager to learn and gets immense satisfaction when she learns a new skill.

"Grace very much knows her own mind and it can be difficult if you are asking her to do something that she doesn't want to do.

"I've found the best way to deal with this is a short time-out followed by a conversation to explain why the behaviour was not acceptable.

"Communication is key as is allowing her to have her say. If this isn't successful then withdrawing a favourite possession for a day or so can also work.

"The flip-side of having a child question authority is they tend to be strong minded, and not easily led.

"We want our children to listen and do as they are told, as this is a good life skill for adulthood, yet we also encourage them to challenge themselves and be the best they can be.

"I think this will lead to being a more rounded adult.

"Given that our own little rule-breaker seems to already know her own mind, I believe she will be more equipped to handle peer pressure and not give in to what everyone else is doing in later life.

"I think she will have confidence in the workplace to question anything she would perceive as incorrect but equally have the strength of character to stand over her actions."

Laura Haugh (above) is the mum-in-residence at www.mummyPages.ie. Married to sales director Ross, she has two children, James (6) and Lucy (3). She also has a daughter who likes to break the rules and while she often finds this behaviour trying, believes it will help her to get on in life.

"My three and a-half-year-old daughter, Lucy is a rule-breaker. It's hard to believe, but she's been doing it since before she could even talk, it's like she does it just to push my buttons.

"Well, in actual fact, that is why she does it most of the time, to get my attention.

"The rest of the time it is to get her own way, her rebellious ways scare me - what will she be like when she is a teenager if this is what she is like when she is three?

"Some of my extended family, friends and even her pre-school teachers, celebrate Lucy's strong-willed character, her determined nature and her natural leadership style.

"But they don't have to live with her. I would love to be her best friend as she thinks up all of the games giving directions and assigning roles as she goes along.

"She is great fun, knows how to get what she wants - even if it means working the system to her advantage. She will care for you and defend your honour if you're within her inner circle and she has bundles of energy.

"But instead of being her friend, I am her mother, so my challenge is to discipline the rule-breaking, the defiance and the mean-girl behaviour that I witness, so she may grow up to be a positive contributing member of society, all the while ensuring that I don't break her spirit.

"I've tried every style and method of discipline and the only ones that really work are to model the behaviour that we like to see in our family - walk the walk so to speak; praise the good behaviour and ignore the bad (which is easier said than done) and spending 15 minutes of quality one-to-one time with her every day playing or doing whatever she decides for our time together.

"Whatever the future holds, I know already that I am better being on Lucy's inner circle to win favour and be most effective. As one other parent said to me on pre-school pick up the other day, in the eyes of her child it's 'Lucy for president'."

Child psychologist Peadar Maxwell (below) says while there is no concrete evidence to say that the CEO gene exists, children do like to break rules and it is up to the adults in their lives to guide them in the right direction.

"I am not sure if we can conclude if there is a CEO gene or not. There may well be a study that contradicts the idea that the DAT1 gene does what the Kansas State University study seems to imply or is, perhaps, involved in another trait linked to leadership such as getting pleasure from knowledge or status, things that contribute to the drive to become a leader.

"I note that the study authors also mention that one's upbringing has a key role in how this propensity to be a mild rule-breaker plays out.

"Harsh or overly permissive parenting, for example, can lead to a child withdrawing from learning and experiencing the world.

"So rule-breaking needs to be dealt with curiosity and consistency by the adult so that the child can predict to some level how the adult will respond.

"Children naturally seek to test the boundaries set up by adults and need to explore and discover their own limits - but feel safest when there are limits established by loving or caring adults.

"As they grow and reach adolescence, they seek novelty in the form of meeting new people, testing their parents' values and venturing out more.

"Breaking minor rules usually does not involve too much danger or the law; it's more about day-to-day limits that parents and children squabble about.

"So when a child is very bossy and wants to control every situation, they need as much empathy as the child who is overly reluctant. They may simply love organising, having clear rules or showing their knowledge - equally they may be managing their anxiety in some situations.

"My advice would be to respect the child's point of view just as you'd like to see her respect the view of another child. Teach her about fairness and try to help her to see things from another child's perspective and appeal to her common sense.

"Don't label your child as a bully or tell her that no one will want to play with her. Instead, ask how she would feel if another child was always in charge or deciding on what game to play.

"The real learning for the controlling child is to feel safe letting go of some power and for the bossy child it is to learn to reflect on the feelings of others."