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15-09-2018 | Original Paper

A Multimethod Assessment of Associations between Parental Attachment Style and School-aged Children’s Emotion

Journal of Child and Family Studies
Jessica L. Borelli, Patricia A. Smiley, Margaret Burkhart Kerr, Kajung Hong, Hannah F. Rasmussen, Katherine V. Buttitta, Jessica L. West


Self-reported romantic attachment style is a well-studied phenomenon within the romantic relationship literature, yet surprisingly little work examines its link with parenting- or child-related outcomes. Understanding the associations (or lack thereof) between adults’ self-reported attachment anxiety and avoidance with relevant outcomes in children is crucial in revealing the extent to which romantic attachment style has empirical ties with the canonical work of Bowlby and Ainsworth. With the current study, we explored whether parents’ self-reported romantic attachment style predicts a key outcome of attachment security—children's emotion reactivity and regulation. Within an ethnically diverse sample of school-aged children, we tested associations between parents’ self-reported attachment styles and children’s emotion reactivity and regulation, measured with subjective, behavioral, and physiological metrics at two time points. Results show that higher parental attachment anxiety, and to a lesser extent avoidance, predict multiple indices (behavioral, physiological, and subjective) of emotion reactivity and regulation in children. Children of parents reporting higher attachment anxiety self-reported greater positive and negative emotion, as well as greater use of emotion regulation strategies. These children also demonstrated lower physiological emotion regulation at follow-up. Children of parents higher in avoidance reported less negative emotion after a hypothetical stressor and less use of emotion regulation strategies, but more negative emotion following a failure task at follow-up. Findings add to the body of evidence suggesting that self-reported attachment anxiety and avoidance are associated with theoretically-relevant child variables in attachment research.

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