Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 152–167 | Cite as

A Multimethod Assessment of Associations between Parental Attachment Style and School-aged Children’s Emotion

  • Jessica L. BorelliEmail author
  • Patricia A. Smiley
  • Margaret Burkhart Kerr
  • Kajung Hong
  • Hannah F. Rasmussen
  • Katherine V. Buttitta
  • Jessica L. West
Original Paper


Self-reported romantic attachment style is a well-studied phenomenon within the romantic relationship literature, yet surprisingly little work examines its link with parenting- or child-related outcomes. Understanding the associations (or lack thereof) between adults’ self-reported attachment anxiety and avoidance with relevant outcomes in children is crucial in revealing the extent to which romantic attachment style has empirical ties with the canonical work of Bowlby and Ainsworth. With the current study, we explored whether parents’ self-reported romantic attachment style predicts a key outcome of attachment security—children's emotion reactivity and regulation. Within an ethnically diverse sample of school-aged children, we tested associations between parents’ self-reported attachment styles and children’s emotion reactivity and regulation, measured with subjective, behavioral, and physiological metrics at two time points. Results show that higher parental attachment anxiety, and to a lesser extent avoidance, predict multiple indices (behavioral, physiological, and subjective) of emotion reactivity and regulation in children. Children of parents reporting higher attachment anxiety self-reported greater positive and negative emotion, as well as greater use of emotion regulation strategies. These children also demonstrated lower physiological emotion regulation at follow-up. Children of parents higher in avoidance reported less negative emotion after a hypothetical stressor and less use of emotion regulation strategies, but more negative emotion following a failure task at follow-up. Findings add to the body of evidence suggesting that self-reported attachment anxiety and avoidance are associated with theoretically-relevant child variables in attachment research.


Attachment style Emotion reactivity Emotion regulation Parent–child Middle childhood 



The authors wish to thank the families who participated in this investigation as well as the Pomona CARE Lab and UCI THRIVE Lab research assistants who helped with the study. The study was supported by a start-up grant from Pomona College awarded to the first author. A portion of these data were presented by the first author at the 2017 International Attachment Conference in London as part of a symposium chaired by Jessica Stern and Jude Cassidy.

Author Contributions

JB: conceptualized the design, executed the study, conducted the data analyses, and wrote the manuscript. PS: consulted regarding the design of the study and the analyses, contributed to the writing of the manuscript. MB: collaborated with the writing of the manuscript and consulted on analyses. KH, HR, KB: consulted regarding the theoretical framing of the manuscript and contributed to its writing/editing. JW: consulted regarding the design of the study and the framing of the research questions.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee of Pomona College and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Parents completed consent forms, and children completed assent forms.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica L. Borelli
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patricia A. Smiley
    • 2
  • Margaret Burkhart Kerr
    • 3
  • Kajung Hong
    • 1
  • Hannah F. Rasmussen
    • 4
  • Katherine V. Buttitta
    • 5
  • Jessica L. West
    • 6
  1. 1.University of California, Department of Psychological ScienceIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Pomona CollegeClaremontUSA
  3. 3.University of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  4. 4.University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  5. 5.Claremont Graduate UniversityClaremontUSA
  6. 6.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA

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