Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Associations among Young Children's Temperament, Parents' Perceptions of Their Young Children, and Characteristics of the Parent-Young Child Relationship

Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Associations among Young Children's Temperament, Parents' Perceptions of Their Young Children, and Characteristics of the Parent-Young Child Relationship

Article excerpt

Research has suggested that young children's temperament and parents' behaviors are interrelated (Calkins, Hungerford, & Dedmon, 2004; Rubin, Burgess, Dwyer, & Hastings, 2003). In many research studies, young children's temperament is thought to prompt parents to interact with their young children in certain ways (Collins, Maccoby, Steinberg, Hetherington, & Bornstein, 2000; O'Connor, 2002). For example, young children's difficult temperaments (e.g., they are fussy or hard to soothe) may be related to mothers' development of negative or unfavorable parenting behaviors (Bowlby, 1982).

It also is likely, however, that parents' behaviors in the context of their relationships with their young children are associated with changes in young children's temperament (Collins et al.; O'Connor). Thus, the association between young children's temperament and parents' behaviors is bidirectional in nature, as parents and young children often influence each other (Patterson, 1982). Although these associations are noted in the research literature, fewer studies examine variables that may help professionals who work with young children better understand this association.

In fact, parents' perceptions may be an important mediating variable in the association between these variables. Parents' perceptions may color their views of their young children as well as young children's views of themselves. Knowing that parents hold certain perceptions may prompt young children to exhibit emotions and behaviors that are consistent with these perceptions. For example, parents who are having to set more limits for their young children's behaviors may perceive their children more negatively. In turn, these negative perceptions may prompt parents to feel that their young children have less control over their own behaviors. Given that parents' perceptions may be useful in understanding the association between young children's temperament and characteristics of the parent-young child relationship, this study examines the associations among these variables.

Young Children's Temperament

When describing young children's functioning, their temperament (i.e., their individual predisposition toward emotional reactivity and self-regulation [Bates, Maslin, & Frankel, 1985] as well as their early-appearing behavioral approaches and emotional dispositions [Calkins et al., 2004]) often is considered. When describing young children's temperament, reactivity refers to children's ease of arousal when they are responding to their environments, whereas children's self-regulation refers to processes that modulate reactivity (Kagan, 2003). As temperament is conceptualized usually as being biologically based (Calkins et al.) and influenced by genes (Goldsmith et al., 1987), it often is considered to be innate and stable (Bates et al.). Nonetheless, young children also must develop the ability to process and regulate their reactions to sensory stimuli from their environments while maintaining their attention and remaining in a state of calm (DeGangi, 2000; Greenspan, 2007). This regulation allows young children to develop their ability to build relationships, exhibit appropriate behaviors, and acquire appropriate affect. Thus, temperament also may be influenced over time by young children's environmental experiences (Rothbart & Bates, 2006). Such findings would suggest that there is a bidirectional relationship between young children's temperament and their environments.

Further, young children's temperament is related to their interactions with other individuals. In particular, young children's temperament is related to how they react to others and how others react to them (Bates et al., 1985; Shaw et al., 1998). In fact, some researchers defined temperament in terms of different dimensions that represent young children's different response styles across contexts (e.g., Thomas, Chess, Birch, Hertzig, & Korn's [1963] nine dimensions). …

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