Associations among Context-specific Maternal Protective Behavior, Toddlers' Fearful Temperament, and Maternal Accuracy and Goals


  • The project from which these data were derived was supported, in part, by a National Research Service Award from the National Institute of Mental Health (F31 MH077385-01) and a University of Missouri Department of Psychology Sciences Dissertation Grant granted to the first author, and a grant to Kristin Buss from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH075750). We express our appreciation to the families and toddlers who participated in this project.

Elizabeth J. Kiel, Miami University, 100 Psychology Building, 90 N. Patterson Ave., Oxford, OH 45056, USA. Email:


Maternal protective responses to temperamentally fearful toddlers have previously been found to relate to increased risk for children's development of anxiety-spectrum problems. Not all protective behavior is ‘overprotective’, and not all mothers respond to toddlers' fear with protection. Therefore, the current study aimed to identify conditions under which an association between fearful temperament and protective maternal behavior occurs. Participants included 117 toddlers and their mothers who were observed in a variety of laboratory tasks. Mothers predicted their toddlers' fear reactions in these tasks and reported the importance of parent-centered goals for their children's shyness. Protective behavior displayed in low-threat, but not high-threat, contexts related to concurrently observed fearful temperament and to mother-reported shy/inhibited behavior 1 year later. The relation between fearful temperament and protective behavior in low-threat, but not high-threat, contexts was strengthened by maternal accuracy in anticipating children's fear and maternal parent-centered goals for children's shyness.