Mother-child interaction at age two years and perceived difficult temperament

Child Dev. 1985 Oct;56(5):1314-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1985.tb00199.x.


The current study investigated a hypothesized link between early child temperament and later problem behavior. Early temperament was assessed at ages 6, 13, and 24 months via mother ratings on age-appropriate versions of the Infant Characteristics Questionnaire. The 24-month form was developed in this study. Factor analyses of the questionnaire indicated a clear difficultness factor that was similar in content across all 3 ages. The 6-, 13-, and 24-month difficultness factors were correlated with home observation measures of mother-toddler interaction at age 24 months. Home observation indexes focused on situations where the mother tried to control the toddler's "trouble" behavior. Children rated by their mothers as difficult at 24 months were found to approach "mild trouble" more frequently than children perceived as easy or average. Furthermore, their mothers used intrusive control tactics more frequently than mothers of easy or average children. Analysis of behavior sequence variables showed that difficult children resisted their mothers' control attempts significantly more often than easy or average children, that is, had more conflict with the mothers. The 6- and 13-month difficultness scores predicted both the 2-year-old difficultness rating and the observed conflict indexes. It is suggested that the conflict observed in the interaction between the difficult 2-year-olds and their mothers is conceptually similar to the conflictual behavior characteristic of older, clinically referred, socially aggressive children and their mothers. Thus, the conflicted interactions found at age 2 years may represent an empirically based link between difficult infant temperament and the development of childhood problem behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Personality*
  • Social Perception
  • Temperament*