Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Effect of Same-Age and Mixed-Age Grouping in Day Care on Parent-Child Attachment Security

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Effect of Same-Age and Mixed-Age Grouping in Day Care on Parent-Child Attachment Security

Article excerpt

This pilot study investigates the effect on parent-child attachment relationships of same-age versus mixed-age grouping in daycare centers in the Netherlands. For 45 children in the age range of 2 to 6 years, parent-child attachment relationships were assessed by means of the Attachment Q-Sort. It was found that attachment security did not differ significantly for children who had been in mixed-age or in same-age grouping, or who had experienced a change of daycare center.

Attachment plays a key role in children's upbringing and development. Attachment is generally understood to refer to a relatively long-term affective relationship between a child and one or more specific persons (so-called 'attachment figures'), with whom the child interacts regularly (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1984). Children are said to be securely attached if they tend to seek the closeness of, and contact with, a particular person in frightening situations, or whenever they are tired or ill (Bowlby, 1984). When a child is upset, an attachment figure may serve as an effective source of security. The concept of attachment is not restricted to the relationship of a child with the parents, but it may apply to the child's relationships with other caregivers as well.

The actual attachment formation usually takes place in four phases, with the main (third) phase starting around 6 months of age (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Bowlby, 1984). In the Netherlands, where the present study was conducted, children usually enroll in day care at the age of about three months, when the mother's pregnancy leave - combined with some holidays - is finished. This means that day care takes place in a period which is generally regarded as crucial for attachment formation (Bowlby, 1984). Therefore, children will benefit optimally from the structure or organization of day care if it is geared towards enabling them to build secure relationships with caregivers (Barnas & Cummings, 1994). Many studies have testified to the fact that quality of day care may affect children's opportunities for establishing such secure attachment relationships (Belsky & Rovine, 1988; Clarke-Stewart, 1989; Phillips, 1987).

Caregiver stability, the quality of the caregiver-infant interaction, and the quality of the daycare setting are generally regarded as important quality aspects of day care (Howes,1987). Other important quality aspects are age differences among the children, and group size in that smaller groups are associated with more effective caregiving and more secure attachment behaviors (Clarke-Stewart, Gruber & Fitzgerald, 1994; Phillips & Howes, 1987; Allhusen & Cochran, 1991).

Age differences are, to a large extent, determined by the type of grouping employed in a daycare center. Groupings are basically of two types. The first, most common, type is referred to as homogeneous, horizontal or same-age grouping. In such same-age groups, the largest age difference is usually about two years (Freedman, 1982). In mixed-age (also referred to as heterogeneous or vertical) groups, by contrast, age differences may well exceed two years. In the Netherlands, mixedage groups are generally composed of approximately 12 children aged 0 to 4 years, with two to three permanent caregivers taking care of the children in the group (Van IJzendoom, 1995).

An important difference between same-age and mixed-age grouping is the stability of the group and its caregivers. Several studies have shown that the caregiverchild attachment relationship is often more secure the longer a caregiver is part of the group (Cummings, 1980; Raikes, 1993; Barnas & Cummings, 1994). When children in day care are in same-age groups, they make at least one transition from a younger to an older group. When moving to the new group, they miss the secure base of their familiar caregivers, i.e., attachment figures (Howes & Hamilton,1993). At the same time, they need to explore in a new group of peers, building up new secure attachment relationships with new caregivers, and establish themselves anew in the novel group (Van Ilzendoom,1995). …

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