Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969) posits that each person has their own attachment style that is formed during childhood. This attachment style, whether secure, insecure (insecure-anxious or insecure-avoidant), or disorganized, remains relatively stable across time. Attachment styles usually dictate the way we behave with others, as they largely influence the way we perceive ourselves as well as others. Taking this into consideration, Jiao and Segrin (2021) were interested in evaluating the association between parent-child attachment and overparenting during emerging adulthood. In other words, the researchers were interested in understanding whether the parents’ own attachment style contributes to overparenting practices, as well as the effect of these practices on children’s bond with their parents. In order to evaluate this, Jiao and Segrin recruited 213 parent-emerging-adult-child dyads, in other words 213 parents and their children who were aged between 18 and 25 years old. Parents and their children were asked to complete a questionnaire that measures attachment, and parents were also asked to complete a scale that evaluates overparenting practices based on the following criteria: anticipatory problem-solving, advice/affect management, tangible assistance, and risk aversion.
According to the results, parents’ insecure attachment to their child (insecure-anxious and insecure-avoidant) was found to predict overparenting. In other words, parents who have an insecure attachment style, whether anxious or avoidant, tend to adopt more overparenting practices than parents who are securely attached. The association between parental anxiety and overparenting resonates with previous studies showing that overprotective parents tend to worry more about their children, hence the overinvolvement. These results shed light on the fact that attachment is an intergenerational construct, since overparenting can be linked to parents’ own attachment style which they developed during childhood, with their own parents. Moreover, results showed that overparenting was associated with attachment avoidance in children, which could mean that overparenting can push children away. In conclusion, these findings suggest that parents sometimes behave with their children in ways that would fulfil their own attachment needs, rather than acting in accordance with their children’s needs.
Final thoughts: As human beings, everything we do is partly unconscious - we are not always aware of why we actually do the things we do. While this does not exclusively apply to parents, this piece focuses on the context of parenting and was written in hopes of parents becoming more aware of what motivates their behavior with their child.
Jiao, J., & Segrin, C. (2021). Parent-Emerging-Adult-Child Attachment and Overparenting. Family Relations, 70, 859-865. DOI:10.1111/fare.12473
Leung, J. T.-Y. (2021). Overparenting, Parent-Child Conflict and Anxiety among Chinese Adolescents: A Cross-Lagged Panel Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(22). doi: 10.3390/ijerph182211887
Segrin, C., Givertz, M., Swaitkowski, P., & Montgomery, N. (2015). Overparenting is Associated with Child Problems and a Critical Family Environment. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24, 470-479. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-013-9858-3
Segrin, C., Woszidlo, A., Givertz, M., & Monsgomery, N. (2013). Parent and Child Traits Associated with Overparenting. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 32(6), 569-595. DOI: 10.1521/jscp.2013.32.6.569