• Familial, child developmental, and demographic concomitants of serious ingestions in preschool children were measured in 23 hospitalized children and controls matched on age, race, and socioeconomic status. A precoded maternal interview focused on family stress, parental discipline, parental emotional history, as well as childhood temperament and social maturity. A regression analysis was performed on variables that discriminated between ingestion cases and controls. Sixteen variables from the regression equation were entered into a stepwise discriminant function analysis. Significant descriptors of ingestion victims included the following: lack of extended family low Vineland Social Maturity quotient, few maternal opportunities to escape care-giving, good health, a high frequency of physical punishment in the mother's childhood, and increased current advocacy needs. Using these six variables as a screening device, the discriminant function correctly classified 87% of the subjects as either cases or controls. These data suggest that ingestions are symptoms of familial and, especially of maternal, distress. These healthy, active, but delayed children appear to overwhelm their caregivers.