Mother-Child Bond Affects Quality of Conflict Resolution

THURSDAY April 3, 2008 -- The way mothers and their 2-year-olds relate to each other affects the quality -- but not the frequency -- of conflict during the "terrible twos." And a child's temperament plays a role in both quality and frequency of such conflicts, according to a new study.

Interactions between 60 mothers and their children were observed during two sessions -- a 50-minute lab visit when the children were 30 months old, and a 90-minute home visit when the children were 36 months old. The Lehigh and University of California, Davis, researchers recorded details of all episodes of conflict, including whether mothers and children displayed compromise, justification or aggravation (simple insistence without explanation or threats), and whether there was a resolution.

In both sessions, mother-child conflict occurred an average of 20 times an hour, with a large degree of variation in frequency of conflict (from five to 55 times an hour) and the quality of conflict.

Children's temperament affected frequency and quality of conflict. Children who were highly active and had difficulty controlling their behavior had more run-ins with their mothers than less active children who could control their behavior. Highly active children and those who frequently and intensely experienced negative emotions had less constructive conflict with their mothers (less resolution, less justification, more aggravation) than children without these traits, the study found.

Attachment security -- the degree of trust children have in their mothers' responsiveness and availability -- affected conflict quality, but not frequency. Mothers and children who had secure relationships had constructive conflict featuring high levels of resolution, compromise, and justification, the study found.

The findings were published in the March/April issue of the journal Child Development.

"Children with difficult temperaments tend to have more frequent and less constructive conflict with mothers," lead author Deborah Laible, associate professor of psychology at Lehigh University, said in a prepared statement.

"High-quality relationships between mothers and children were associated with more constructive conflict between mothers and children. In secure relationships, both mothers and children seem committed to maintaining relational harmony by resolving conflict, compromising, and justifying their side of an argument," Laible said.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about children's temperaments.

Posted: April 2008


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