Attachment and the
Ontogeny of Conduct Problems
Mark T. Greenberg Matthew L. Speltz University of Washington
The conduct problems of young children have become a focus of recent research within child clinical psychology, perhaps because of their potential to predict future maladjustment. Although the relationship between early conduct and later adjustment is complex and mediated by a variety of developmental and situational variables ( Loeber, 1982), the notion that chronic problem behavior in early childhood portends future problem behavior, emotional instability, and delinquency in adolescence and adulthood is supported by several longitudinal studies (e.g., Olweus, 1979; Robins, 1966). The term conduct problem has not been defined with great precision for young children but is generally used to summarize a collection of antisocial behaviors including aggressiveness, chronic noncompliance, intense and immature emotional responses to limits (e.g., tantrums) and early forms of delinquency (e.g., stealing and lying). Although the summary labels for these behaviors vary considerably among researchers and clinicians (see Quay, 1979; Robinson, 1985), all refer to a behavioral pattern of strong child opposition to the rules of family, school, and/or community, a pattern that is often first observed clinically during the preschool years within parent-child dyads.
The apparent predictive power of early conduct problems has led clinicians to develop a variety of treatment regimens for use with the preschool child, and in some cases with his or her parent. This focus on secondary prevention stems from the hope that interventions with incipient forms of antisocial behavior during the preschool years may prove more effective