Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Associations between Attachment Security and Social Competence in Preschool Children

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Associations between Attachment Security and Social Competence in Preschool Children

Article excerpt

Attachment theorists suggest that attachment security with parents supports the quality of social adaptation in peer groups during early childhood, and numerous studies supporting this conjecture have been published. Most of these studies used enacted representations rather than mental representations of attachment security, and most studies examining mental representations used adult (parent or teacher) ratings of peer-group adaptation. Our study tested relations between preschool children's (N = 147; age 48-69 months) mental representations of attachment by using the Attachment Story Completion Task and child-level indicators of social competence based on direct observations and sociometric interviews. General intelligence tests were administered to control for effects of developmental level on child narrative production. Analyses revealed positive, significant associations between attachment measures and all social competence composites. Children with more secure attachment representations were more socially engaged and more likely to exhibit social, emotional, and cognitive skills that contribute to peer acceptance. Results support the hypothesis that attachment security is a foundational support for peer social competence.

The notion that attachment relationships coconstructed during the early years of life serve as guides or templates for the child's subsequent relationships with peers and that security in attachment relationships supports the child's positive social adaptation in children's peer groups has a long history in developmental research and theory (e.g., Bost, Vaughn, Washington, Cielinski, & Bradbard, 1998; Bowlby, 1973, 1969/1982; Lieberman, 1977; Park & Waters, 1989; Rose-Krasnor, Rubin, Booth, & Coplan, 1996; E. Waters & Sroufe, 1983). John Bowlby (e.g., 1973) argued that the mechanisms mediating relations between early attachment security and later adaptive functioning were internal (mental) working models of the attachment figure, the self, and the self in relation to others that reflected the interaction history of the child and the attachment figure during the early years of life. These internal models were thought to guide behavior in subsequent close relationships (e.g., Treboux, Crowell, & Waters, 2004), to inform the child's beliefs about his/her personal qualities and attributes (e.g., Elicker, Englund, & Sroufe, 1992), and shape the child's expectations about how others might respond to his or her social initiations (e.g., Booth, Rubin, & Rose-Krasnor, 1998).

By and large, studies examining links between attachment security and aspects of adaptation in childhood have yielded positive results. Children with secure attachments, whether assessed in infancy/toddlerhood or concurrently with peer-group assessments, tend to be advantaged in comparison to children with insecure attachments in terms of the quality of their peer interactions and relationships in early childhood (e.g., Barglow, Contreras, Kavesh, & Vaughn, 1998; LaFreniere & Sroufe, 1985; Sroufe, 1983; Szewczyk-Sokolowski, Bost, & Wainright, 2005; E. Waters, Wippman, & Sroufe, 1979) and with respect to social competence more generally (Arend, Gove, & Sroufe, 1979; Bost et al., 1998; Lieberman, 1977; Rose-Krasnor et al., 1996; Veríssimo et al., 2011; Verschueren & Marcoen, 1999). Nevertheless, associations between early attachment security and childhood outcomes were often rather modest, dependent on the age(s) of the child when attachment and/or later social adaptation measures were obtained, and significant associations were often moderated or mediated by intervening variables (e.g., McElwain, Booth-LaForce, Lansford, Wu, & Dyer, 2008; Turner, 1991). Schneider, Atkinson, and Tardif (2001) reported a meta-analysis of 63 studies, published prior to 1998, in which they found the global effect size (ES) for infant/toddler attachment security on subsequent social outcomes to be . …

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