Development and Psychopathology

Affect dysregulation in the mother–child relationship in the toddler years: Antecedents and consequences


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The purpose of this study was to examine child, maternal, and family antecedents of children's early affect dysregulation within the mother–child relationship and later cognitive and socioemotional correlates of affect dysregulation. Children's affect dysregulation at 24 and 36 months was defined in the context of mother–child interactions in semistructured play and toy cleanup. Dyads were classified as dysregulated at each age based on high negative affect. Affect dysregulation was associated with less maternal sensitivity and stimulation, more maternal depressive symptoms, and lower family income over the first 36 months of life. Children with early negative mood, lower Bayley Mental Development Index scores and insecure-avoidant (15 months) or insecure-resistant attachment classifications (36 months) were more likely to be in an affect-dysregulated group. Controlling for family and child variables, affect-dysregulated children had more problematic cognitive, social, and behavioral outcomes at 54 months, kindergarten, and first grade. The findings are discussed in terms of the early role played by parents in assisting children with affect regulation, the reciprocal nature of parent–child interactions, and the contribution of affect regulation to children's later cognitive, social, and behavioral competence. a

c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, NICHD, 6100 Executive Blvd., 4A01, Rockville, MD 20852.


a This study is directed by a Steering Committee and supported by NICHD through a cooperative agreement (U10), which calls for scientific collaboration between the grantees and the NICHD staff. Participating investigators, listed in alphabetical order, are Virginia Allhusen, University of California, Irvine; Jay Belsky, University of London; Cathryn L. Booth, University of Washington; Robert Bradley, University of Arkansas, Little Rock; Celia A. Brownell, University of Pittsburgh; Margaret Burchinal, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Susan B. Campbell, University of Pittsburgh; K. Alison Clarke–Stewart, University of California, Irvine; Martha Cox, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Sarah L. Friedman, NICHD, Bethesda, Maryland; Kathyrn Hirsh–Pasek, Temple University; Aletha Huston, University of Texas, Austin; Elizabeth Jaeger, Temple University; Jean F. Kelly, University of Washington; Bonnie Knoke, Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle, North Carolina; Nancy Marshall, Wellesley College; Kathleen McCartney, Harvard University; Marion O'Brien, University of Kansas; Margaret Tresch Owen, University of Texas, Dallas; Chris Payne, University of North Carolina, Greensboro; Deborah Phillips, National Research Council, Washington, DC; Robert Pianta, University of Virginia; Wendy Robeson, Wellesley College; Susan Spieker, University of Washington; Deborah Lowe Vandell, University of Wisconsin, Madison; and Marsha Weinraub, Temple University. The authors express appreciation to the study coordinators at each site who supervised the data collection, the research assistants who collected the data, and especially the families and child care providers who welcomed the authors into their homes and workplaces and cooperated willingly with repeated requests for information.