The Effects of Parenting Styles and Childhood Attachment Patterns on Intimate Relationships

By Neal, Jennifer; Frick-Horbury, Donna | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2001 | Go to article overview

The Effects of Parenting Styles and Childhood Attachment Patterns on Intimate Relationships


Neal, Jennifer, Frick-Horbury, Donna, Journal of Instructional Psychology


This paper examines the idea that parental behavior characteristic of authoritative, authoritarian and permissive parenting styles seem to parallel the parental behavior connected with secure, avoidant, and ambivalent attachment styles. Since it has been demonstrated that attachment styles result in an internal working model which guides intimate relationships as an adult, it is hypothesized that parenting styles which mirror the attachment pattern will also predict relationship abilities as an adult. Fifty-six volunteer undergraduate students participated in this study. Results show that although 92% of the students with authoritative parenting styles are also securely attached, that only attachment styles predict intimacy patterns. Those students who were securely attached to their parents scored significantly higher on tests of personal intimacy and belief in other's abilities to be intimate as opposed to those students with authoritarian or permissive parents. Results are discussed in the context that attachment patterns form an early working model while parenting styles are more prevalent when the child is older and may affect other variables.

Many variables contribute to the formation of an attachment between child and caregiver. Ainsworth (1964) developed a classification system that categorized attachment into three types; secure, avoidant, and ambivalent attachment, each characterized by the mother's typical behavior towards the child and the child's reaction to the mother. For example, mothers of securely attached children rate higher on scales of sensitivity, acceptance, cooperation, and emotional accessibility (Ainsworth, 1967; Ainsworth & Bell, 1970; Karen, 1998). Due to this, the child has a great deal of autonomy, affective sharing, cognitive flexibility, problem-solving ability and perseverance (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1979). All of these outcomes indicate that secure attachment results in healthy family and peer relationships as well as, high self-esteem for the child (Bowlby, 1988). Conversely, the mothers of insecurely attached children display behaviors that range from chaotic or inconsistent care-taking (Bridges & Connell, 1991; Egeland & Farber, 1984) to rejection and maltreatment of their children (Ainsworth, 1989). In response to these parenting techniques, these children become emotionally isolated from both family and peers and seldom have stable interpersonal relationships or a good self-concept (Bowlby, 1988).

The type of attachment that a child forms has long-term repercussions into many aspects of the child's development and adult life (Bowlby, 1969). Some of these aspects include peer relationships and the ability to maintain long-term intimate relationships. Collins and Reed (1990) propose that early attachment histories are the basis of an internal working model for adult relationships whereby persons with secure childhood attachments show higher levels of trust, closeness, and dependability while insecure childhood attachments predict the reverse (Bowlby, 1973, 1980, 1982). However, there are other variables within a parent-child relationship that might also predict the outcome of the child's future interpersonal relationships. One of these variables is that of parenting styles. Baumrind (1966) defines the three types of parenting styles as authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. Parental behavior for each of these styles seems to parallel that of parental behavior for individual attachment patterns. For example, similar to the parent of a securely attached child, the authoritative parent is sensitive to the child's needs, does not use punitive discipline, and reasons with the child in a loving and affectionate manner (Baumrind, 1966).

Likewise, comparable to avoidant parenting, the authoritarian parent is demanding, but unresponsive to the child, tends to use punitive and harsh punishment, physical enforcement, reprimands, and prohibitive interventions (Kochanska, Kuczyniski, & Radke, 1989). …

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