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"Tots with 'Tude" -- The Discovery Files

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Defiant behavior from toddlers toward their mothers may not be a bad thing, according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan. They studied the mother-child interaction of 14- to 27-month-old children and found this behavior may in fact reflect an emerging autonomy and healthy confidence. The study also indicated a correlation to the mother's behavior. Children with mothers exhibiting symptoms of depression were more likely to ignore requests and less likely to exhibit defiance -- possibly at risk of becoming overly passive.

Credit: NSF/Clear Channel Communications/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

I'm not being defiant, Mom... I'm practicing assertiveness!

I'm Bob Karson with "The Discovery Files" -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

If you're over two-and-a-half years old, that "practicing assertiveness" excuse probably won't fly. But it may actually be valid for the 'diaper and drool' set. (SOUND: baby cooing) Researchers from the Universities of Texas and Michigan wanted to know more about the parent-child battle for control during an age often called, "the terrible twos." So, they amassed 119 of the adorable curtain-climbers, along with their moms, to see just how compliant or defiant each child was.

(SOUND: babies giggling and playing with toys)

The moms were asked to have their children comply with certain requests dealing with toys placed in the room. The child might be asked to avoid certain toys or clean up some toys. The researchers were interested in the child's reactions. Some of their findings indicate that traits of the mom, such as sensitivity, depression, or involvement, affected the child's actions.

The researchers note that defiance in children at these early ages could be a positive thing... it may reflect their emerging individuality, and confidence that they can control events in their world.

So the next time you're exasperated by a 'toddler with a 'tude,' (SOUND: cartoon music) remember, they might just be practicing to be a well-balanced big person.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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