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Parent -child conflict in the toddler years: Lessons in emotion, morality, and relationships

Deborah June Laible, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Conflict between a young child and her parents is both frequent and normative during the toddler and preschool years. Despite this, however, parent-child conflict has received relatively little attention by researchers. Therefore, the role that this early conflict might play in contributing to individual differences in children's socioemotional development is not well understood. Therefore, the goal of the current research was to examine how differences in the frequency and nature of early mother-toddler conflict (e.g., the presence of negotiation) related to a child's subsequent socioemotional and sociomoral development. Sixty-three toddlers and their mothers took part in a six-month prospective study examining this issue. At the first assessment period, when the child was 30 months, the mother and child participated in a series of structured laboratory tasks designed to provide opportunities for conflict in the dyad and in a one and half hour unstructured home observation. All episodes of verbal conflict between the mother and child were identified, transcribed from videotapes and audiotapes, and coded for certain elements (e.g., strategy, discussion of emotion and rules, resolution, and conflict theme). At 36 months each child took part in a battery of measures designed to assess emotional understanding, social competence, and early conscience development. Whereas the frequency of conflict was typically not a strong predictor of a child's subsequent socioemotional and sociomoral adjustment, the quality of mother-child conflict was. High levels of maternal justification (and low levels of aggravation), maternal resolution, and maternal mitigation in mother-toddler conflict at 30 months predicted high levels of socioemotional and sociomoral development at 36 months. Overall, the study suggests that parent-child conflict might be an important arena for a child's socialization. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Psychology, Developmental|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

Recommended Citation

Laible, Deborah June, "Parent -child conflict in the toddler years: Lessons in emotion, morality, and relationships" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9973596.