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Mother-Child Relationships as Sources of Support or Stress: A Comparison of Competent, Average, Aggressive, and Anxious Dyads

Jean E. Dumas and Peter J. LaFreniere
Child Development
Vol. 64, No. 6 (Dec., 1993), pp. 1732-1754
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1131466
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1131466
Page Count: 23
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Mother-Child Relationships as Sources of Support or Stress: A Comparison of Competent, Average, Aggressive, and Anxious Dyads
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Abstract

We tested the proposition that mother-child relationships can be sources of support or stress, by comparing patterns of mother-child interactions in a problem-solving task that children completed with their own and with an unfamiliar mother. 4 groups of preschoolers (n = 30 in each group)-identified on the basis of teacher ratings as socially competent, average, aggressive, or anxious-participated. Mothers of competent and average children were highly positive and reciprocal toward their own and unfamiliar children. Mothers of aggressive and anxious children were only positive and reciprocal toward unfamiliar children but generally indiscriminate (aggressive group) or aversive and negatively reciprocal (anxious group) toward their own. Children in all 4 groups tended to be reciprocal toward their own mothers, but only competent and average children were reciprocal toward unfamiliar mothers also. Aggressive and anxious children generally responded to unfamiliar mothers by ignoring or actively rejecting their overtures. Results (1) indicate that the relationship with the primary caregiver may serve as a major source of support or stress in the preschool years; (2) focus attention on the dynamic organization of interactions rather than on the presence or frequency of particular behaviors, indicating that a dynamic of reciprocity enables children and mothers to adapt positively to the ever changing demands of new social situations; (3) point to the need to develop new means of assessing relationships to better understand how they influence development; and (4) highlight the importance of incorporating transactional models in the diagnosis and treatment of childhood dysfunctions rather than accounting for them solely in terms of limited skills in parents or children.

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