Maternal Perceptions of Temperament Among Infants and Toddlers Investigated for Maltreatment: Implications for Services Need and Referral
Infants and young children reported for maltreatment are a particularly vulnerable population. Many of these young children are maltreated by their own mothers. A mother's description of her infant's temperament can inform researchers', practitioners', and policy makers' understanding of the relational problems between the mother and her young child and thereby sharpen the focus of intervention and treatment programs. We examine maternal perception of infants' temperament, using data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being. The sample consisted of 1,001 biological mothers of children aged birth to 23 months and investigated for child maltreatment. About a fifth of the sample reported that for more than half the time their infants or toddlers were crying or upset and were difficult to soothe or calm. During the average day, about 40% of infants or toddlers were reportedly fussy and irritable half the time or longer. The most negative infant behaviors were consistently reported by 13.6% of the mothers. In multivariate analyses, variables significantly associated with the mother's perception of difficult temperament were physical victimization by an intimate partner and the mother's own childhood history of abuse and neglect. Knowledge about mothers' perceptions of difficult temperament and about predictors of these perceptions can help identify mother-child dyads in need of dyadic-psychotherapy and domestic violence interventions, which can help heal the mother-child relationship and restore the capacity for mutual joy and protection of the child well-being.