After publishing a couple of papers on the subject, I collaborated with leading attachment researchers, Drs. Carlo Schuengel and Marije Verhage from the Faculty of Behavioral and Movement Sciences, Clinical Child and Family Studies, at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and established the Collaboration on Attachment to Multiple Parents and Outcomes Synthesis (CAMPOS).
'Studying an attachment relationship with only one parent is simply overlooking half of the story.'
Through such international collaborations, we combined previously collected data from multiple sites across the globe on children’s attachment relationships with both their mothers and fathers and on children’s mental health and cognitive capacities. So instead of individual small datasets, we have compiled one large dataset, which allows us to simultaneously analyze data on many children and their parents- more than 1,000 child-mother-father triads- and be more confident in the conclusions that we derive from the findings.
Can you tell us a little about the findings that your team has come up with thus far?
We thus far analyzed the data to assess two developmental outcomes. The first was children’s mental health. We found that children with two secure attachment relationships with mother and father had significantly lower chances of experiencing anxiety and depression symptoms compared with children who had one insecure attachment to mother or father, and children who were insecurely attached to both parents. Interestingly, we found similarly elevated mental health symptoms that children who were insecurely attached only to mothers compared to those who were insecurely attached only to fathers, suggesting an equally important role that mother-child and father-child attachment relationships play in children’s mental health outcomes.
We also looked at children’s language competence, and we found similar results to the ones we found with mental health outcomes. That is, language skills increased with more secure attachment a child had. Children with two secure attachments had the highest scores, then came children who were securely attached to only one parent, and last came those with two insecure attachments. Here, too, we found an immaterial difference between mother-child and father-child attachment relationships as predictors of language competence. Together with recent findings showing that language competence variability predicts individual differences in behavioral problems, it is becoming clearer how beneficial it is for children to develop a secure attachment with both mothers and fathers.
What are the future steps in the project?
At the moment, we are in the process of analyzing outcome data that will allow us to better understand the predictive power of attachment networks to mothers and fathers on children’s effortful and inhibitory control, emotion regulation, and social competence- all of which have been shown to increase the long-term vulnerability to mental health problems. Another future avenue I plan to pursue is a recruitment of a large birth cohort, potentially in collaboration with multiple research laboratories around the world, and follow children longitudinally so to better understand the influence of early attachment networks to mothers and fathers on the stability and change in mental and physical health problems. Such research design will also allow for tapping on potential mechanisms that contribute to such developmental trajectories.