Mothers' Perceptions of Children's Temperament and Mother-Child Attachment

By Kemp, Virginia H. PhD, Rn | Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice, January 1, 1987 | Go to article overview

Mothers' Perceptions of Children's Temperament and Mother-Child Attachment


Kemp, Virginia H. PhD, Rn, Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice


This study focuses on the relationship between mothers' perceptions of their children's temperament and mother-child attachment. Twenty-eight mother-child pairs were assessed on these two variables. Mothers completed the Gary Infant Temperament Questionnaire when their children were eight months of age to evaluate their perceptions of their children's temperament. When the children were 12 months of age, the mother-child pairs were videotaped according to Ainsworth's Strange-Situation Procedure in order to classify children's attachment. Using discriminant function analysis, temperament scores were able to significantly (p=.07) predict membership into one of three attachment groups including A (avoidant attachment), B (secure attachment), or C (anxious attachment).

Two concepts of importance in understanding early mother-child interactions are children's temperament and mother-child attachment. Although maternal perceptions of children's temperament and behavioral expressions of attachment are affected by sociocultural factors, both concepts are considered to be universal. Bowlby (1969) has postulated that the early attachment children experience toward their mothers and other care providers is the prototype for all future love relationships. If this is true, then mother-child attachment is a crucial variable in understanding the basis for a child's capacity to form relationships.

In the search to understand attachment, the research focus has been on mothers' personality characteristics, childrearing attitudes, and care-giving skills. Children's contribution to the attachment process has not been fully explored. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationships between children's temperament and mother-child attachment. Knowledge of temperament and its relationship to attachment would provide greater ability for nurses to assess difficulties in the attachment process and assist parents in adapting to individual children's styles.

Temperament can be conceptualized as being part of the larger concept of personality. Personality is that which constitutes, distinguishes, and characterizes a person and is the total reaction of a person to the environment. Temperament can be defined as a behavorial style of reacting to the environment (Thomas &Chess, 1977). It is influenced by both genetic and sociocultural factors (Buss &Plomin, 1975; deVries &Sameroff, 1984; Freedman, 1974; Werner, 1979). Kagan (1984) states that most cultures acknowledge the distinctive temperamental styles of infants, and most parents accommodate to these inborn biases.

Several studies have supported genetic influences on temperament. Torgersen and Kriglen (1978) compared monozygotic and dizygotic twins and found that the monozygotic twin pairs were more similar to each other in temperament traits than were the dizygotic twins. They collected data on a sample of 53 same-sex twin pairs. On the basis of blood typing, 34 pairs were identified as monozygotic, 16 pairs as dizygotic, and three pairs were of uncertain zygosity. If a given temperamental trait has a strong genetic component, the differences between the monozygotic twins for this trait should be less than the differences between dizygotic twins. At two months there were statistically significant differences between the monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs in regularity and threshold and a similar trend for intensity. At nine months the differences were significant for all nine temperament traits (as identified by Thomas &Chess), with seven of them reaching the 0.001 level. In all categories, as at 2 months, the monozygotic twin pairs were more similar to each other than were the dizygotic twins.

Sostek and Wyatt (1981) found that behavioral differences in newborns are associated with an enzyme that circulates in both the blood and the brain, monamine oxidase (MAO). By comparing the amounts of MAO in the blood of 23 newborns with their performance on the Neonatal Behavior Assessment Scale, they concluded that newborns with low MAO levels were much more active and easily aroused; they cried more often, took longer to console, and required more holding and rocking to quiet down. …

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