Objective. This study extends our understanding of what characteristics in young children occupational therapists value and their attitudes regarding how a parent should respond to a toddler who refuses to cooperate in a joint occupation.

Method. Using a mailed questionnaire, occupational therapists (n = 201) ranked seven characteristics of preschoolers from most important to least important. Responses to a story about a parent with a noncompliant toddler at mealtime suggested attitudes about managing young children’s behaviors. Through individual interviews, parents (n = 96) with a variety of ethnic and educational backgrounds responded to the same questions about characteristics of preschoolers and parental responses to toddlers.

Results. More occupational therapist respondents than parents placed high value on the characteristic of a preschooler who likes himself or herself. Respondents expressed attitudes that parents should be flexible and let a toddler determine what and when he or she wants to eat. Experience as parents and years in practice contributed to respondents’ valuing self-respect as a characteristic in preschoolers over other characteristics and expressing more support for parents allowing young children to control situations. The greatest differences in values and attitudes were between respondents who were parents and parents in the contrast groups who had less than 1 year of education beyond high school.

Conclusion. Shared and differing ideas about what characteristics are most important in a child and how to respond to children’s noncompliant behaviors can shape how therapists and parents respond to each other. Occupational therapists recognizing that they may not hold the same basic ideas about children as do parents of children with special needs may be more inclined to approach the families they work with as a unique social system.

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