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Early Attachment and Parent-Preschooler Relationships

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Infants and toddlers who are securely attached to their parents have parents who are consistently responsive to them. We also learned that secure attachment during those first few years is associated with a number of other positive developmental outcomes. Secure attachment is not only central to the well-being of infants and toddlers, it is also important for the optimum development of preschoolers. The attachment preschoolers have with their parents has a profound impact on their social-emotional development. It has been demonstrated through longitudinal studies that preschoolers who were securely attached as babies show more elaborate make-believe play and greater enthusiasm, flexibility, and persistence in problem solving. Attachment security during preschool also has been shown to be a reliable predictor of early conscience development (Laible & Thompson, 2000) and of the development of a positive view of the self. Such children have been found to be high in self-esteem, socially competent, cooperative, popular, and empathic. In contrast, preschoolers with avoidant attachment have been viewed as isolated and disconnected, and preschoolers with resistant attachment have been described as disruptive and difficult (Bar-Haim, Sutton, & Fox, 2000).

Although secure attachment during infancy is generally related to positive development during preschool, continuity of responsive caregiving determines whether securely attached infants continue to be securely attached during preschool (Bar-Haim et al., 2000; Landry, Smith, & Swank, 2001). When parents respond sensitively to their infants and continue to respond sensitively to their young children, more favorable social-emotional development is likely to occur. In contrast, at any point of children's development when parents react insensitively over a prolonged period of time, increased risk of maladjustment can be predicted (Landry et al., 2001). Securely attached preschoolers not only have parents who have continued to be responsive to their needs, but they also have parents who have adjusted their responsiveness to the developmental needs of their preschoolers. Parents of securely attached preschoolers are significantly more warm and accepting as well as less controlling of their young children in comparison to parents of insecurely attached preschoolers (Barnett, Kidwell, & Leung, 1998). Whether parents are sufficiently warm and accepting to their preschoolers is often tied to the circumstances of their lives. For example, Nair and Murray (2005) found that children of divorced parents have lower security scores in comparison to children in intact families. These researchers then explored the circumstances that contribute to differences in attachment security among preschoolers of divorced or married parents. They found that mothers from divorced families are younger, have lower income levels, and less education in comparison to married mothers. They also noted that divorced mothers reported higher levels of stress and depression, mentioned conflict with their spouses, and expressed a need for social support.

What This Means for Professionals

Anyone who reviews the research related to the behaviors of securely attached infants who become securely attached preschoolers is struck by the importance of parental responsiveness to the feelings and needs of children. It might be reassuring for parents to know that when they consistently respond to their children's questions, laugh with them, play with them, show affection for them, and comfort them, they are sustaining their children's attachment. If parents are aware of the many benefits of parental responsiveness, they might be inclined to relax more with their children and to participate more in playful activities with them. For professionals working with parents, they should be aware that circumstances that create hardships for parents might affect their responsiveness to their preschoolers and in turn compromise their preschoolers' sense of security. In these circumstances, social support is likely to alleviate some of the concerns of these parents and enhance the security of their preschoolers.

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