Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Mother-Child Attachment Representation and Relationships over Time in Mexican-Heritage Families

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Mother-Child Attachment Representation and Relationships over Time in Mexican-Heritage Families

Article excerpt

Continuity and intergenerational transmission of representations of attachment were examined in a longitudinal sample of 88 Mexican immigrant mothers and their children who participated in the local intervention group of the Early Head Start Evaluation Study. The authors interviewed mothers with the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) and Parent Attachment Interview (PAI). Mothers and children were observed when the children were 14 months old with the Attachment Q-Set (AQS), and children were interviewed at 54 months with the MacArthur Story Stem Battery. Early maternal AAI and PAI scores were associated with toddler-age children's AQS scores and preschool Story Stem scores. Mothers who were more secure in their attachment representations in the AAI had children who were also more secure, as measured by the AQS and in their Story Stem narratives. Mothers' high comfort and low enmeshment PAI scores predicted children's Story Stem security. Mothers' AAI security scores predicted children's Story Stem narrative coherence.

Keywords: attachment, prekindergarten, social development


The field of early childhood education generally recognizes that "establishing reciprocal relationships with families" is an important goal for all early childhood programs (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009); and for some programs, especially those serving infants and toddlers and including Early Head Start, the goal is specifically to enhance and support healthy family functioning and parent-child relationships. For these programs, an understanding of parent-child attachment informs service delivery options and intervention practices. A continued concern in designing attachment-based interventions is understanding the role of intergenerational transmission--that is, how the parents' own model of attachment may affect the quality of the relationships they develop with their children, as well as the representations formed, in turn, by the children themselves (Bakermans-Kranenburg, van IJzendoorn, & Juffer, 2003; Hoffman, Marvin, & Cooper, 2006).

From the perspective of attachment theory, mothers' representations of relationships and of parenting are reflections of their understandings of interpersonal relationships, especially the domains of being cared for and caring for others (George, Kaplan, & Main, 1985; George & Solomon, 1999; Hesse, 1999). Mothers with secure states of mind about security, and with balanced and flexible perceptions of their children, are expected to construct secure attachment relationships with their children and have children with secure and coherent representations of relationships. Considerable empirical support exists for this assumption (Behrens, Hesse, & Main, 2007; Slade, Belsky, Aber, & Phelps, 1999; Slade, Grienberger, Bernbach, Levy, & Locker, 2005; van IJzendoorn, 1995). However, with the exception of a Japanese study (Behrens et al., 2007), much of this support comes from studies conducted in Europe and the United States. In the current study, we examine intergenerational transmission of attachment and caregiving representations in low-income, Mexican-heritage immigrant mothers and their children from early infancy through prekindergarten, extending the literature to another cultural group and over a relatively long period of development.

Immigrant mothers' parenting practices are influenced by assumptions from their heritage country and, especially for parents enrolled in early intervention programs, ideas about parenting from the host country. This may be particularly true for mothers born in Mexico but parenting a child in the United States. Parenting experts in the host country argue that socially competent children use the mother as a secure base in the context of exploration away from the mother and increased autonomy (e.g., Weinfield, Sroufe, Egeland, & Carlson, 1999). However, Mexican mothers have traditionally adhered to the alternative goals of socializing children to be attentive to the needs of the family group, and especially to the teaching, directions, and advice of elders (Reese, 2002; Richman, Miller, & Levine, 1992; Uribe, LeVine, & LeVine, 1994). …

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