NEW YORK — It’s important for a young child to have a caregiver who they trust and feel they can depend on. So it makes sense that a new NYU study finds that preschoolers who have a poor relationship with their mothers tend to develop dependent or “clingy” relationships with their teachers.
Additionally, researchers also say that as children who are disconnected from their parents grow older, they usually become anxious, withdrawn, and shy in elementary school. Although, it appears that a strong enough connection with a teacher from an early age can greatly help certain children avoid developing overly anxious or shy traits later on in adolescence.
“Our research suggests that preschool teachers have the potential to play a pivotal role for children who are more dependent,” says Robin Neuhaus, lead researcher and doctoral student in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Teacher and Learning, in a university release. “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.”
Using data collected by the National Institute of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the research team analyzed 769 children from all over the United States.
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The relationship between each examined child and their mother was closely investigated. More specifically, mother and child attachment patterns were assessed. The participating children and their mothers were followed up with periodically throughout the child’s life. First, at 36 months old, then at 54 months old, then during the first, third and fifth grades.
A number of relationship elements were assessed between a mother and her child, including closeness, dependency, and conflict. Those same elements were also measured between the 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,” Neuhaus concludes.
The study is published in Attachment and Human Behavior.