Negative Emotionality Moderates Associations Among Attachment, Toddlers Sleep, and Later Problem Behaviors

Published In: Journal of Family Psychology, v. 27, no. 1, Feb. 2013, p. 127-136

Posted on RAND.org on February 01, 2013

by Wendy M. Troxel, Christopher J. Trentacosta, Erika E. Forbes, Susan B. Campbell

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Secure parent-child relationships are implicated in children's self-regulation, including the ability to self-soothe at bedtime. Sleep, in turn, may serve as a pathway linking attachment security with subsequent emotional and behavioral problems in children. We used path analysis to examine the direct relationship between attachment security and maternal reports of sleep problems during toddlerhood and the degree to which sleep serves as a pathway linking attachment with subsequent teacher-reported emotional and behavioral problems. We also examined infant negative emotionality as a vulnerability factor that may potentiate attachment-sleep-adjustment outcomes. Data were drawn from 776 mother-infant dyads participating in the National Institute of Child and Human Development Study of Early Child Care. After statistically adjusting for mother and child characteristics, including child sleep and emotional and behavioral problems at 24 months, we found no evidence for a statistically significant direct path between attachment security and sleep problems at 36 months; however, there was a direct relationship between sleep problems at 36 months and internalizing problems at 54 months. Path models that examined the moderating influence of infant negative emotionality demonstrated significant direct relationships between attachment security and toddler sleep problems and between sleep problems and subsequent emotional and behavioral problems, but only among children characterized by high negative emotionality at 6 months. In addition, among this subset, there was a significant indirect path between attachment and internalizing problems through sleep problems. These longitudinal findings implicate sleep as one critical pathway linking attachment security with adjustment difficulties, particularly among temperamentally vulnerable children.

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