What is it about?

Children learn to trust in their parent’s availability and support if they repeatedly experience that their parents respond sensitively to their needs during distress. Attachment is thus developed and shaped by day-to-day interactions, while at the same time, each interaction shows the quality of the attachment relation. How attachment-related behaviors of mother and child follow upon each other during interactions in middle childhood, and how these sequences differ in function of attachment quality, has hardly been studied up to now. To fill this gap, we gave 55 mother-child dyads (27 girls, 28 boys, mean age: 10.3) a stressing task and analysed there reaction on each other from second to second. Results reveal that in all mother-child dyads positive mother is followed by positive child behaviors and vice versa. A difference can be found in how children react on negative behavior of the mother. Children scoring low on trust and/or high on attachment avoidence tended to handle negative mother behavior less well as they show more negative behavior and less positive behavior in response to negative maternal behavior. More anxiously attached children also show less positive behavior, but react positively on collaborative interactions.

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Why is it important?

Although attachment has been investigated a lot in infancy and adulthood, middle childhood is only recently drawing attention in attachment research. No wonder, as behaviors get more complex and intertwined, while representations that could be investigated with questionnaires are still developing. In this research we aimed to investigate how typical children of these age group behave in a stressing situation and whether individual differences in this behavior can be related to self-reported attachment styles. To investigate these questions, the study proposes a new coding scheme, the Middle Childhood Attachment Micro-Observation System (MCAM) , and a data-analyses approach that allows to depict the likelihood that two behaviors follow upon each other in a easy-to-interpret network figure.

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This page is a summary of: Unraveling middle childhood attachment-related behavior sequences using a micro-coding approach, PLoS ONE, October 2019, PLOS, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0224372.
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