Toddler behavioral problems and parent -child interaction in an inner-city early intervention sample: Implications for assessment and intervention

Jessica Linnell Hopkins, Pace University


Behavior problems among very young children referred for early intervention services are a common concern. Given that serious problems tend to persist over time, placing children at risk for later personal and social maladjustment, it is important to identify early maladaptive patterns and intervene effectively. Several evolving contemporary developmental formulations that draw on empirical findings converge on the importance of the caregiving relationship in early social-emotional development. These relational frameworks place early behavioral problems within the context of dyadic dysfunction, supporting the use of relationship-focused assessment and intervention procedures. This study examined the link between early behavior problems and dyadic dysfunction in a sample of 30 dyads referred for early intervention services in order to guide effective assessment and intervention procedures. Dyads consisted of caregivers and their toddlers, ages 24 to 46 months, who demonstrated developmental delays, behavioral problems, and environmental risk factors. Child behavior problems were assessed by the parent-report form of the Child Behavior Checklist for toddlers (CBCL/2-3). The Parent-Child Early Relational Assessment (ERA) was used as the observational assessment of dyadic interaction. The short form of the Parent Stress Index (PSI/SF) was used as a parent-report instrument measuring stress in the Parent-child relationship and to examine the concurrent validity of the ERA. Results indicated that behavior problems were prevalent among the children, with 63% presenting with clinically significant levels of total behavior problems as rated by the parent on the CBCL/2-3. In support of hypotheses, behavior problems were found to be associated with caregiver interactive qualities of greater negative affect, lower positive affect, and lower sensitivity. The dyadic quality of mutual enthusiasm and reciprocity was positively related to fewer behavior problems, while dyadic tension and disorganization was related to more behavioral problems. Predictions associating child positive affect and dysregulation and irritability demonstrated during dyadic interaction and parent-reported behavior problems were not supported and warrant further exploration. Finally, concurrent validity was supported for parental and dyadic ERA variables and the PSI/SF. Results of this study support the perspective that early maladaptive behavior occurs within the context of dyadic dysfunction. Comprehensive evaluations of young children warrant the inclusion of parent-child observation, which can be used for early identification of children with or at risk for emotional and behavioral problems. The standardized assessment of parent-child interaction presented here targets many specific and developmentally salient areas of dyadic functioning as they pertain to early behavioral functioning. Utilizing parent-child interaction measures will help to both understand the emotional and behavioral difficulties of young children and to guide effective relationship-based intervention strategies.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Psychotherapy|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Hopkins, Jessica Linnell, "Toddler behavioral problems and parent -child interaction in an inner-city early intervention sample: Implications for assessment and intervention" (2001). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3015188.



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