Toddlers who are strongly attached to their mothers are more likely to form closer friendships in the early grade-school years,according to a new study.
According to Nancy McElwain,a University of Illinois assistant professor of human and community development and lead author of the study,mother-child relationships may be important in guiding childrens outlook towards other close relationships.
“In a secure,emotionally open mother-child relationship,children develop a more positive,less biased understanding of others,which then promotes more positive friendships during the early school years,” said McElwain.
During the study,the researchers looked at 1,071 children and assessed mother-child attachment at age three as well as when the child was four and a half years.
“We found several ways in which the early mother-child relationship may affect later friendship quality,” McElwain said.
At four and a half years,children were assessed for what the researchers called a hostile attribution bias,where the child was given a series of hypothetical vignettes in which a peer did something negative to the child,although it wasnt clear if the peer had meant to hurt or antagonize the child.
The team found that children who were securely attached at age three showed more open emotional communication with mothers and better language ability at four and a half.
“Open emotional communication in turn predicted fewer hostile attributions at first grade,which predicted greater teacher-reported friendship quality at third grade,” she said.
“This finding suggests that the way children interpret other peoples behaviour may begin to develop in the context of early relationships in the family,and these interpretations may be important for a childs ability to get along with friends later on,” she added.
They also found that open emotional communication at age four and a half was related to mother- and teacher-reported friendship quality via the childs general peer competence in first grade.
“When kids feel comfortable talking about their emotions,especially their negative emotions,it increases their social competence with classmates and leads to closer friendships,” she said.
“The preschool years are an interesting period to study because the childs rapidly growing language skills allow parents and children to share in ways they havent been able to before,” she noted.
The study is published in journal Child Development.