- Parental behaviour described as 'scaffolding' has been shown to influence outcomes in at-risk children. The purpose of this study was to compare maternal verbal scaffolding in toddlers born preterm and full term.The scaffolding behaviour of mothers of toddlers born preterm and healthy full term was compared during a 5-min videotaped free play session with standardized toys. We compared two types of scaffolding and their associations with socio-demographic, neonatal medical factors and cognition.The mothers of toddlers born full term used more complex scaffolding. Maternal education was associated with complex scaffolding scores for the preterm children only. Specifically, the preterm children who were sicker in the neonatal period, and whose mothers had higher education, used more complex scaffolding. In addition, children born preterm, who had less days of ventilation, had higher cognitive scores when their mothers used more complex scaffolding. Similarly, cognitive and scaffolding scores were higher for children born full term.Our findings highlight early differences in mother-child interactive styles of toddlers born preterm compared with full term. Teaching parents play methods that support early problem-solving skills may support a child's method of exploration and simultaneously their language development.©2012 The Author(s)/Acta Paediatrica ©2012 Foundation Acta Paediatrica.