Attachment bonds form the foundation of a child’s well-being and set the stage for their behavior patterns. Children who have secure attachments with their caregivers early in life tend to be more self-reliant and have a stronger sense of self-worth and independence. Children who have insecure attachments to their caregivers early in life, as a result of abuse, neglect, or maltreatment, often struggle with developmental issues that can affect their social, academic, and relationship adjustment as they age. Anger has been shown to influence attachment security in young children. Interventions designed to address the anger and aggressive behaviors in toddlers are primarily aimed at addressing the behaviors of the children and the parents’ responses to those behaviors. However, Nancy L. McElwain of the Department of Human and Community Development at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wanted to find out if addressing the relationship and attachment aspect of the parent-child relationship would influence the behaviors of children who are prone to anger.
McElwain assessed the behaviors, responses, and reactions of 120 three-year-old children, half of whom were girls. She evaluated them as they participated in several tasks designed to elicit emotional responses and demonstrate secure or insecure behaviors. She found that the children with the strongest attachment bonds were more compliant to the requests of their caregivers than those with insecure attachment. The experiment also revealed that the children with the highest levels of anger were also the ones who most willingly completed the tasks as instructed. The more secure the responses of the caregivers, the more willing these children were. This suggests that the easily angered children may be more sensitive to positive and negative responses of caregivers and this sensitivity could motivate them to be more agreeable. As expected, the children with less secure attachments were more dependent on their caregivers than those with secure attachments. McElwain believes that these results highlight the importance of focusing on attachment style when working with children prone to anger. She added, “The current findings also suggest that children high on anger proneness may especially benefit from interventions aimed at increasing the quality of the parent–child attachment relationship.”
McElwain, N. L., Holland, A. S., Engle, J. M., Wong, M. S. (2012). Child anger proneness moderates associations between child-mother attachment security and child behavior with mothers at 33 months. Journal of Family Psychology 26.1, 78-86.
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