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May 19, 2015

How Do Parents Help Kids Cope?

by Bonnie Eissner

Laura Brumariu, Ph.D.

It is intuitive and proven that secure parent-child relationships benefit children. But questions remain to be answered about why this is true or the precise ways in which parent-child attachment impacts child development.

Laura Brumariu, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, explores these questions in her research.

Dr. Brumariu explained that a secure parent-child attachment is a relationship in which children perceive their caregivers as available, sensitive to their needs and havens of safety in times of distress.

One question she is now addressing is: “Why does having a secure relationship with a parent help somebody have lower anxiety?”

She is primarily focused on how parent-child attachment affects a child’s ability to regulate emotions and cope with stressful or unexpected situations. In a series of studies involving children of different ages, she showed that children in secure relationships are better at identifying and managing emotions and have better peer relationships.

HandprintsAccording to her findings, children with disorganized-insecure attachments, by contrast, have more difficulty managing emotions and have poorer peer relationships. They also tend to evaluate ambiguous situations more negatively and, when they encounter difficulties, are less likely to seek support or engage in problem solving.

“In turn, difficulties with emotion regulation and peer relationships have been linked with more anxious feelings in children,” Dr. Brumariu explained.

Dr. Brumariu readily acknowledges that attachment is not the be-all, end-all of childhood happiness. She and her colleagues are also looking at how temperament and parent-child communication relate to child anxiety.

For example, in one study in which child-mother pairs were asked to discuss a conflict, mothers of less anxious children were more supportive, exhibited more warmth and interest in the child and were more elaborative during conversations. Further, more anxious children showed heightened emotion and were less engaged in the conversation.

“I’m trying to look at it all in a context, because we don’t believe in a vacuum,” Dr. Brumariu said. “There are other pieces to this puzzle of why some kids are anxious and some are not, including genetics.”

This piece appeared in the 2015 issue of Erudition.
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