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Security, temperature tip early coping.

Psychologists generally hold that a preschool-aged child who greets a brief separation from his or her mother with a tantrum or by blocking the mother's exit exhibits clear signs of insecurity and overdependence. But a long-term study of 98 mother-child pairs indicates that such reactions sometimes reflect sound psychological growth among youngsters temperamentally inclined toward emotional distress.

Mothers of "temperamentally vulnerable" infants who respond to outbursts with immediate gestures to comfort - rather than ignoring or downplaying the squalls - may promote healthy expressions of negative feelings, such as sadness and anger, by age 3, assert psychologists Margaret Fish of Marshall University School of Medicine in Huntington, W. Va., and Jay Belsky of Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

From home observations and mothers' reports when infants reached 3 months old, Fish and Belsky rated 60 of the 98 youngsters as "more distressprone." Mothers and babies visited Belsky's lab near the infants' first birthday; the researchers rated the security of each child's relationship with the mother based on responses to a series of brief separations, during which the child sat in a playroom with a female experimenter. At 3 years of age, children returned to the lab for a 23-minute separation from their mothers, followed by a 10-minute block-building task with the mother present.

The vast majority of tantrums that caused mothers to return before the end of the planned, 23-minute separation occurred among 3-year-olds with histories of both secure maternal relationships and emotional volatility, the investigators report in the just-released July American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Moreover, these children displayed considerable comfort and motivation when subsequently confronted with the block task. In contrast, distress-prone children with insecure maternal links often tolerated the entire separation and expressed substantial anxiety, discomfort and withdrawal during the block task.

Temperamental but secure children feel confident they can satisfy their needs by expressing distress in appropriate situations, thus reaping the added benefit of improved performance on a challenging task, the researchers theorize. These youngsters' insecure counterparts may suppress distress responses and pay an emotional price later on, they add.
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Title Annotation:separation anxiety in preschool-age children may indicate sound psychological growth
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 10, 1991
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