The Congruence of Mothers’ and Their Children’s Representations of Their Relationship

  • Allison Keisler Splaun
  • Miriam Steele
  • Howard Steele
  • Iris Reiner
  • Anne Murphy


According to attachment theory, parents’ and children’s internalized representations of their relationship should correlate to one another in predictable ways. The current research investigates this correspondence between mothers’ and their 4-8 year- old children’s (M = 6 years, SD = 1.4 years) internal representations in 92 mother-child dyads where the children are at high- risk for psychopathology due to exposure to potentially abusive or neglectful circumstances. Maternal representations were assessed with the Parent Development Interview (PDI; Aber et al., 1985) and children’s were assessed with three stories from the Attachment Story Completion Task (ACST; Bretherton, Ridgeway, & Cassidy, 1990) coded with an attachment-focused system (Reiner & Splaun, 2008). Mothers who expressed high levels of joy, competence, confidence, and low anger had children who were able to address negative themes and feelings in their stories and resolve the central story dilemma. Thus, these qualities seem to enable mothers to help their children learn to address and resolve both difficult situations and feelings. That such cross-generational links were observed in a high-risk population speaks to the influence of parents’ thoughts and feelings about their children on the way children approach and resolve imagined attachment dilemmas. 


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