Over a 3-year period 35 preschool children were observed during minor physical illness at home while they were cared for by their mothers. The children came from one pediatrician's private practice and had no history of chronic illness or hospital admission. A total of 76 periods of illness were observed. During the acute phase of illness all children showed some temporary loss of age-appropriate behavior. Particularly striking were the changes in the children's relationship with their mothers. These changes constituted two types of reactions which were related to age. Reaction 1, predominant among the ill 2-year-olds, was characterized by the child's clinging, whiny dependence while children over the age of 3 tended to show Reaction 2. Its main feature was a self-contained, rather undemanding state. During convalescence all children demonstrated a few days of irritable, impatient behavior. The preschool child's reactions to acute illness at home appear to change with age in an orderly continuum toward self-contained, rather independent behavior. The findings allow for a discussion of the possible role of minor illness in promoting the young child's reality sense and responsibility for the care of his body.

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