Parent-Child Attachment and Social Competence in Preschoolers

Nour Yaktine
· 5 min read

Research has found that early father-child and mother-child attachment relationships uniquely contribute to preschoolers’ social competence

Early parent-child attachment relationships have been found to impact child development in many different ways, affecting socio-emotional and cognitive development (Balbernie, 2013). Indeed, the first three years of life can have long-lasting impacts both intrapsychically and interpersonally. When children develop a secure attachment during childhood, their mental health as well as the quality of their relationships improve. On the other hand, insecure children can experience emotion dysregulation, (Cheche, 2017), low self-esteem, are more prone to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression (Lee & Hankin, 2009).

One line of research has focused on evaluating the impact of early attachment relationships on children’s social competence and capacity to engage in social contexts outside of the family system. For instance, Waters & Sroufe (1983) suggested that a secure attachment relationship with the caregiver could promote social competence in children. This stems from the idea that secure attachments are usually the result of caregivers’ availability and responsiveness, which fosters positive social expectations in children. In other words, secure children would expect others, such as peers, to be available, due to previous experience of availability with their caregiver. Not only that, but secure attachment also activates the exploration system, a phenomenon in which the child feels secure enough to explore their environment, thus being exposed to interactions that could promote social skills.

At a time when parenting roles have been redefined and that fathers have become more involved in childrearing practices, Fernandes et al. (2020) have examined whether mother-child attachment relationships impact preschoolers’ social competence differently than father-child attachment relationships. In their study, participants consisted of 39 parent-child dyads in total, involving both mother-child and father-child dyads. Children, who were 3 years of age at the time of data collection, were observed in six classrooms and at home, during several home visits. Social competence was evaluated based on three indicators: social engagement/motivation; behavioral and psychological attributes and skills; and peer acceptance.

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Results revealed that both mother-child and father-child attachment predicted preschoolers’ social competence. However, each attachment relationship was shown to predict a different aspect of social competence. More specifically, mother-child attachment predicted peer acceptance, and marginally social engagement/motivation. Father-child attachment, on the other hand, predicted behavioral and psychological attributes, and marginally peer acceptance. In short, both early mother-child and early father-child attachment relationships contribute to social competence in preschoolers, and each attachment relationship does so in a different way. This shows that both attachment relationships are crucial components of healthy developmental patterns, and that they both complement each other while uniquely influencing children’s behavior.


Balbernie, R. (2013). The importance of secure attachment for infant mental health. Journal of Health Visiting, 1(4), 210-217. DOI:10.12968/johv.2013.1.4.210

Cheche Hoover, R., & Jackson, J. B. (2021). Insecure Attachment, Emotion Dysregulation, and Psychological Aggression in Couples. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(19–20), NP10908–NP10936.

Fernandes, C., Monteiro, L., Santos, A. J., Fernandes, M., Antunes, M., Vaughn, B. E., & Veríssimo M. (2020). Early father–child and mother–child attachment relationships: contributions to preschoolers’ social competence. Attachment & Human Development, 22(6), 687-704, DOI: 10.1080/14616734.2019.1692045

Lee, A., & Hankin, B. L. (2009). Insecure attachment, dysfunctional attitudes, and low self-esteem predicting prospective symptoms of depression and anxiety during adolescence. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 38(2), 219–231.

Waters, E., & Sroufe, L. A. (1983). Social Competence as a Developmental Construct. Developmental Review, 3(1), 79-97. DOI:10.1016/0273-2297(83)90010-2