An exploration of the impact of attachment, parental meta-emotion, and emotion regulation in adoptive families

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Erin K. Merchant (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
L. DiAnne Borders

Abstract: Due to being at risk for a number of unfavorable environmental factors (Barcons, Abrines, Brun, Sartini, Fumadó, & Marre, 2014), adopted children have an increased likelihood of developing social, emotional, cognitive, and attachment issues (Rushton, 2010). Whether adopted domestically or internationally, adopted children are at risk for experiencing socio-emotional difficulties (Dalen & Theie, 2014; Vandivere, Malm, & Radel, 2009; Vandivere & McKlindon, 2010) that can stunt the child’s ability to effectively regulate their emotions and connect with others. Adoptive parents may find it difficult to emotionally connect with adopted children who are experiencing socio-emotional difficulties (Dalen & Theie, 2014). Adoptive parents can aid their adopted children in learning how to connect emotionally and regulate difficult emotions through emotion coaching (Gottman, Katz, & Hooven, 1996). Emotion coaching is a construct based in a parent’s meta-emotion philosophy (PMEP), which is defined as parents’ thoughts and feelings about their own emotions as well as their child’s emotions. Emotion coaching is one of the four PMEPs and is considered the ideal PMEP. Emotion coaching parents accept and validate all of their children’s emotions, and views their children’s emotional expression as an opportunity to connect with them and teach them how to manage challenging emotions. Researchers (e.g., Ellis, Alisic, Reiss, Dishion, & Fisher, 2013) has shown that children of emotion coaching parents have higher levels of emotion regulation than children of parents with less ideal PMEPs. But how do parents develop their thoughts and feelings about their own emotions and their children’s emotions? Attachment Theory (Bowlby, 1969) may lend some answers to this question. Attachment Theory emphasizes the importance of emotional attunement between the mother and infant when developing secure attachment: the ability to form intimate relationships with others (Bowlby, 1969; Gus, Rose, & Gilbert, 2015). According to Attachment Theory, an individual cannot respond to others with empathic attunement unless they have secure attachment (Bowlby, 1969). The very act of emotion coaching seems to require high levels of emotional attunement between mother and child. Bowlby (1969) emphasized the importance of the mother as a primary attachment figure, and so this study will be looking at the adoptive mother’s attachment and PMEP. Although researchers (e.g., Cowen, 1996; Chen, Lin, & Li, 2012) have made connections between Attachment Theory and PMEP in biological families, they have not yet explored these constructs in adoptive families. Thus, the purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of how adult attachment may or may not influence adoptive mothers’ PMEP and how adoptive adult attachment and PMEP may or may not influence adopted children’s ability to emotionally regulate and attach to their adoptive parent. Because the ideal PMEP is emotion coaching, the researcher measured this type of PMEP only. Adoptive mothers completed questionnaires assessing their attachment, level of emotion coaching, and their view of their child’s ability to emotionally regulate. Utilizing Pearson’s pairwise correlations, the researcher analyzed the relationships between the adoptive mothers’ level of emotion coaching and her attachment; the relationship between the adoptive mothers’ level of emotion coaching and her child’s emotion regulation skills; and the relationship between the adopted mothers’ attachment and her child’s emotion regulation skills. The researcher discovered that there was a statistically significant negative relationship between emotion coaching and adult attachment; a statistically significant positive relationship between emotion coaching and emotion regulation; and statistically significant positive relationship between attachment and lability. Finally, the researcher utilized a regression analysis to discover that the adoptive mothers’ level of emotion coaching acted as a mediator between the adoptive mothers’ attachment and the adopted child’s level of emotion regulation. These findings indicated that emotion coaching is an effective method of aiding adopted children’s ability to emotionally regulate. Furthermore, the findings indicated that even if an adoptive mother is struggling with attachment, if she is able to learn emotion coaching, she may still have a positive effect on her adopted child’s emotion regulation development.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2018
Adoption, Attachment, Children, Emotion regulation, Parental meta emotion philosophy
Attachment behavior
Emotion recognition
Mother and child
Adoptive parents $x Psychology
Adopted children $x Psychology
Adoption $x Psychological aspects

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