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Children Who Have Difficult Relationships with Their Mothers are Clingy Towards Their Early Teachers

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NYU Steinhardt researchers find that children who experience “dependent” or clingy relationships with their preschool teachers tend to also have difficulties in their relationships with their mothers.

A woman holds a toddler

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Fizkes

Children who experience “dependent” or clingy relationships with their preschool teachers tend to also have difficulties in their relationships with their mothers finds researchers at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The new research, published in peer-reviewed academic research journal Attachment and Human Behavior, went even further to find that later in elementary school, these children were prone to being anxious, withdrawn, and overly shy.

“Our research suggests that preschool teachers have the potential to play a pivotal role for children who are more dependent,” said Robin Neuhaus, lead researcher and doctoral student in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Teacher and Learning. “By being warm and supportive, and by encouraging children to explore, preschool teachers may be able to reset the trajectories of children who may otherwise struggle with anxiety in elementary school.”

Analyzing data from 769 children collected by the National Institute of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Neuhaus and her colleagues looked at assessments of mother-child attachment patterns from families across the United States. The sample looked at attachment at 36 months, 54 months, first, third and fifth grades, and examined dependency, closeness, conflict and other behaviors between children and their mothers, as well as children and their teachers.

“Results from multilevel models showed that clingy behavior with preschool teachers was associated with higher levels of anxious behaviors when children were in fifth grade. Clingy behavior also partially mediated the link between a difficult type of mother-child attachment and anxiety in fifth grade,” continued Neuhaus.

In addition to Neuhaus, the research was co-authored by NYU Steinhardt Professor of Education Erin O’Connor and Meghan McCormick, a research associate in the Family Well-Being and Children’s Development Policy Area at MDRC. The full research article can be viewed online. A description and more information about the findings can also be found at Neuhaus and O’Connor’s website.  

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