Maternal representations, infant psychiatric status, and mother-child relationship in clinic-referred and non-referred infants

Daphna Dollberg*, Ruth Feldman, Miri Keren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To examine the relations between maternal representations, infant socio-emotional difficulties, and mother-child relational behavior, 49 clinic-referred infants and their mothers were compared to 30 non-referred controls. Clinic-referred infants' psychiatric status was determined with the DC 0-3-R classification of Zeanah and Benoit (Child Adolesc Psychiatry Clin N Am 4:539-554, 1995) and controls were screened for socio-emotional difficulties. Mothers were interviewed with the parent development interview (Aber et al. in The parent development interview. Unpublished manuscript, 1985) and dyads were observed in free play and problem-solving interactions. Group differences emerged for maternal representations and relational behaviors. Representations of clinic-referred mothers were characterized by lower joy, coherence, and richness, and higher anger experienced in the mother-infant relationship compared to controls. During free play, clinic-referred mothers showed lower sensitivity and higher intrusiveness and provided less adequate instrumental and emotional assistance and support during problem solving. Referred children showed lower social engagement during free play. Associations were found among maternal representations, maternal interactive behavior, child social engagement, and the child's ability to self-regulate during a challenging task. These findings provide empirical support for theoretical and clinical perspectives suggesting a reciprocal link between maternal negative representations and mother and child's maladaptive behaviors in the context of early socio-emotional difficulties and mental health referrals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-36
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Developmental psychopathology
  • Infant mental health
  • Maternal representations
  • Mother-child interaction


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