Attachment Representations and Discipline in Mothers of Young School Children: An Observation Study


Karine Verschueren, Department of Psychology, Catholic University Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium. Email:


Previous research was extended by connecting maternal attachment representations not only to maternal emotional support and task structuring, but also to maternal discipline. A total number of 62 mothers of preschoolers (Mage = 54 months) completed the adult attachment interview and a self-report measure of dysfunctional discipline. Two years later, a subsample of 38 mother–child dyads was observed during two laboratory interaction tasks in which the mother and child were induced to have divergent goals. In general, the hypothesized connections between maternal attachment representations and discipline were found, at least when discipline was independently observed. Specifically, as compared to autonomous mothers, non-autonomous mothers showed more overreactivity, more psychological control and less flexibility in their discipline attempts. Also, their children were less compliant. These differences were more pronounced during a story-eliciting task than during a block task. These findings suggest that parental behaviors in the discipline domain contribute to the explanation of the intergenerational transmission of attachment patterns.