Postdoctoral trainee, Social and Cultural Psychiatry
McGill University Health Centre
Award-winning publication: Disorganized and controlling patterns of attachment, role reversal and caregiving helplessness: links to adolescents externalizing problems
Published in: American Journal of Orthopsychiatry
"Our research aimed to assess the links between attachment in 5-year-old children and externalizing problems in early adolescence and explore the family factors that may explain the connections. First, we studied the direct links between attachment in 5-year-old children and the development of externalizing problems at the age of 13. We then considered the influence of mother-child interactions characterized by role reversal and maternal helplessness on the association between future disorganization and externalizing symptoms. The results suggest that children who demonstrate disorganized attachment at preschool age experience mother-child interactions characterized by role reversal and more self-reported externalized symptoms in adolescence and tend to have mothers who report feelings of maternal helplessness. In addition, significant differences were found between the sub-types of disorganization and the study variables. In terms of self-reported externalized symptoms and maternal helplessness, children with controlling-punitive-type disorganized attachment were at higher risk than those who experienced behavioural disorganization or controlling-caregiving attachment. The mother-child interactions characterized by role reversal and maternal helplessness were found to partially mediate the links between controlling-punitive attachment at age 5 and externalized symptoms reported at age 13."
Externalizing problems lead to significant public costs and constitute a real concern for public health authorities. The results released by Vanessa Lecompte indicate that early intervention in maternal sensitivity for mothers and children who experience disorganized attachment at preschool age may foster more sensitive maternal behaviours that could later alter the development trajectories of at-risk children. The findings also highlight the need to work with mothers to foster positive mother-child interactions and support mothers in their parental role so as to avoid the feeling of helplessness, which has a significant impact on a child's future adaptation. The conclusions are important from the clinical and public health perspectives and will lead to immediate benefits for professionals who work with young people.