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Examining Mexican-heritage children's representations of relationships with mothers and teachers in preschool.

Using narrative story-completion tasks with a sample of 97 preschool-age Mexican-heritage children from a large urban area, the authors examined differences in children's representations about their mothers and teachers. The authors also looked at teachers' perceptions to determine whether teachers viewed children in the same way as children viewed them. Results indicate that children do sometimes portray different attachment relationships when it comes to their mothers and teachers. Stories about teachers have higher scores on the deactivation dimension and lower scores on the hyperactivation dimension than stories about mothers, suggesting a cultural element of the teacher as an authority figure to be respected coming into play with this population. Findings for child-teacher representations were corroborated by teacher self-reports of their relationships with children; higher levels of hyperactivation were associated with higher levels of teacher-reported conflict. Given the supportive and/or compensatory role that the nonmaternal caregiver might provide for young children, a better understanding of this relationship may aid in understanding children's development in the out-of-home context.

Keywords: narrative, mental representation, caregiver child relationships, culturally diverse students, preschoolers


Children living in North America spend increasing amounts of time in some form of nonfamilial child care. It is therefore important to look at the attachment relationships these children form with nonmaternal caregivers, such as preschool teachers, to help understand the role that alternate caregivers play in children's development. Namely, do children build relationships with teachers indicating that they trust the teacher to take care of them and can use the teacher as a resource to help them learn?

Bowlby's (1982) theory of internal working models posits that nonmaternal attachments are partially based on the initial child-mother attachment relationship; therefore, we would expect continuity in quality between the two relationships. Observational studies, however, suggest that secure base behavior can be dissimilar between maternal and nonmaternal caregivers of the same child (Howes, 1999; Howes & Spieker, 2008). However, such studies have primarily focused on middle-class, White populations and have not considered children from different sociocultural contexts. Increasing numbers of Latino children are entering preschool, given that the Hispanic population is currently the fastest growing as well as the largest minority community in the United States (Perez, 2004). Consequently, recognizing this population is important when considering child-teacher relationships, given the increasing diversity of the preschool classroom. Using a sample of Mexican-heritage children enrolled in preschool, this study examined whether representations of child-teacher attachment relationships resemble their child-mother counterparts, and also examined these child-teacher relationships from the teachers' points of view to determine whether there is concordance, or a lack thereof, in the perception of these relationships.


Although studies looking at attachment theory have traditionally focused on the child-mother relationship, researchers have increasingly acknowledged the formation of attachment with nonmaternal caregiving figures, including preschool teachers (e.g., Ahnert, Pinquart, & Lamb, 2006; Howes, 1999; Howes & Hamilton, 1992a; Howes & Spieker, 2008). The quality of the child-teacher attachment relationship becomes important when the teacher is the child's caregiver outside of the home and is then responsible for keeping the child safe, both in the physical and emotional sense, when the child is not with his or her mother (Howes & Hamilton, 1992b).

Although the concept of internal working models posits that there might be some degree of similarity with regard to attachment to different figures, it is possible for a child to exhibit different attachment statuses with different attachment figures, as attachment appears to be characteristic of a specific relationship (van IJzendoorn, Schuengel, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 1999). A recent meta-analysis concluded that children's attachments to their mothers and to their child care providers are semi-independent (Ahnert et al., 2006). However, some child care research has suggested that family and child care influences are interactive (Belsky, 1990). For instance, maternal attachment has been shown to be associated with the quality of children's relationships with teachers (Howes & Matheson, 1992; O'Connor & McCartney, 2006). Also, infants are less likely to exhibit a secure attachment with their mother when low maternal sensitivity and responsiveness are combined with poor-quality child care (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1997).


Another way to assess the child-teacher relationship is to examine how the teacher perceives his or her relationship with the child, as such ratings measure the extent to which students are able to successfully use the teacher as a resource in the classroom (Hamre & Pianta, 2005). Child-teacher relationships are generally important for classroom adjustment and outcomes, as teachers play an important role in shaping the child's school experience, teaching academic and social skills (e.g., Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Pianta, 1999). For example, teacher-reported negative relationships with kindergartners, defined by conflict and dependency, have been shown to be related to academic and behavioral outcomes through 8th grade (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Additionally, children at risk for school failure in kindergarten were found to have higher levels of teacher-rated conflict in 1st grade (Hamre & Pianta, 2005), although this relationship was moderated by emotional support from the teachers in I st grade, which demonstrates the interactive and bidirectional nature of the child-teacher relationship.

There is little extant research simultaneously examining children's and teachers' perceptions of the same relationship. Murray and colleagues (Murray, Murray, & Waas, 2008; Murray, Waas, & Murray, 2008) found that in kindergarten, there was minimal concordance between child and teacher reports of total teacher support and children's school liking and school avoidance, and that teachers and students seem to have different perspectives of what constitutes a positive child-teacher relationship. Reasons for this lack of accord may be twofold: (1) children and teachers are providing different information about the same constructs or are interpreting the same constructs in different ways or (2) generally, there is an overall lack of agreement in different perceptions of the same relationship (Murray, Murray, et al., 2008). Additionally, to date, no study has looked simultaneously at preschoolers' perceptions of attachment to teachers and teachers' perceptions of the same relationship.


Given the ethnic/racial background of the children in this study, cultural differences in the way children approach the child-teacher relationship also might have been a factor. Despite the heterogeneity of the Latino population in the United States, a central feature of Latino culture, even after immigration, is the emphasis on respect for educators (Leyendecker, Lamb, Harwood, & Scholmerich, 2002). In looking at Mexican American immigrants' attitudes toward education, Delgado-Gaitan (1992) found that parents in these families believed that education meant being considerate of others, being kind, having a respect for elders and authority, and cooperating. Additionally, low-income Mexican Americans, particularly those recently immigrated, have been described as having a respect for teachers that most Americans have (or used to have) for medical doctors, lawyers, or priests (Nicolau & Ramos, 1990). These parents also treat teachers with great respect and tell their children to be "respectful" by not looking at teachers in the eye, not speaking to teachers unless spoken to first, and not asking questions of teachers (Nicolau & Ramos, 1990). Puerto Rican mothers living in the United States also were found to place greater emphasis on the importance of teaching their children respectfulness and proper demeanor in the presence of others (Harwood, 1992; Harwood, Miller, & Irizarry, 1995). Furthermore, Mexican American immigrant children, compared to nonimmigrant White students, were found to have more respect and appreciation for their teachers (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 2001).

These notions of respect are conveyed in the notion of being educado. Educado is defined as being well-taught and well-brought-up (Harwood et al., 1995). Children who are buen educado are well-mannered, calm, obedient, attentive to the teaching of their elders, speak to others kindly, and are helpful to those who need help (Delgado-Gaitan, 1992; Harwood et al., 1995). Strongly influenced by their traditional culture, Latino parents encourage their children to be buen educado at school and to respect the school's values (Delgado-Gaitan, 1992). This preference for obedience and conformity is a broad cultural value of Latino populations (Leyendecker et al., 2002). Thus, we would expect that children in this study would perhaps approach their teachers with this notion of being educado in the forefront of their minds, treating their teachers with more respect and acting out less in the classrooms than they may at home.


Most studies looking at attachment have used either the Strange Situation or the Attachment Q-Sort (AQS) assessments to categorize the attachment status of children into secure or insecure classifications. In the preschool years, however, using narrative assessment tasks, such as the MacArthur Story Stem Battery (MSSB; Bretherton, Oppenheim, Buchsbaum, Emde, & the MacArthur Narrative Group, 1990) and the Attachment Story Completion Task (ASCT; Bretherton & Ridgeway, 1990), may be another appropriate method to tap into children's attachment representations. Such tasks offer a way to probe the internal working models of children by using these narratives to systematically gather information from children themselves with regard to their concerns, suffering, and general emotional worlds (Emde, 2003), thus allowing children to share their opinions and experiences in a way that reduces anxiety (Toth, Cicchetti, Macfie, Maughan, & Vanmeenan, 2000). Such tasks allow the researcher to examine how children have internalized the attachment relationship postinfancy.

Representations of children's internal working models of their relationship with mothers have been examined in conjunction with child-teacher relationships. Children who portrayed insecure representations of attachment with their mothers had less intimate and more conflictual relationships with their teachers (Rydell, Bohlin, & Thorell, 2005). Oppenheim (1997) found that children who were rated as having a more secure mother-child attachment in the Attachment Doll-Play Interview also were rated by teachers as having higher levels of self-esteem and age-appropriate attention-seeking strategies. However, these studies looked at the quality of the child-mother relationship to predict relationships with teachers and classroom outcomes rather than directly examining the child-teacher attachment relationship itself, which might provide more direct insight into what transpires in the classroom.


Using a preschool-age sample of Mexican-heritage children, we investigated whether there were differences between representations of the child-mother attachment and representations of the child-teacher attachment in preschoolers. This study differs from previous ones in that it uses a combination of narrative story-stem tasks and a modified version of the Attachment Q-Set (Attachment Story Completion Task Q-Sort; Miljkovitch, Pierrehumbert, Bretherton, & Halfon, 2004) to assess attachment quality in a population that has been little studied. Furthermore, we explored whether the quality of attachment was associated with the teachers' perceptions of their relationship with children in preschool. Specifically:

1. Through their narratives, do children portray similar representations of the child-mother and child-teacher attachment relationships?

2. How are teachers' perceptions of their relationship with these children related to the child's representation of the child-teacher attachment relationship?



Ninety-seven children participated in this research, drawn from a larger study examining cultural communities and parenting in low-income Mexican-heritage families (Howes, Guerra, & Zucker, 2007) in an urban area in the western United States. The children in this study were all of those in the larger sample who were of Mexican heritage and had complete story stem data. The mean age of the children was 54 months (SD = 3.37). Of the children, 52% of the children were girls, and 72% were first-generation immigrants, born in Mexico or Guatemala but having moved to the United States prior to the time of the initial study. All of the children had mothers who self-identified as Mexican-heritage women. Mothers reported that 59.5% of the children lived with both parents, 19% lived with both parents and other relatives, 14.3% lived with their mother and unrelated adults, and 7.1% with their mother alone. The average years of maternal education was 10 years (SD = 3.7). Spanish was the primary language in 82% of the homes. Parents were Head Start-income eligible when enrolled in the study.

Whereas at 2 years of age, approximately one half of the children in the sample were in formal child care, all of the children were enrolled in Head Start preschools in a large urban area in the United States by the time of this study. The children were in different classrooms and, therefore, had different teachers. Of the preschool teachers, all of whom were female, 34% were Latina, 31% were African American, 30% were White, and the rest were Asian/Pacific Islander or Native American. Thirty-four percent of the teachers had a bachelor's degree or higher, and 19% had an associate's degree. All of the children had mothers and caregivers who were Latina.

Procedures and Measures

Children were administered the MSSB (Bretherton & Oppenheim, 2003), which featured stories portraying child-mother interactions and child-teacher interactions. The MSSB was administered individually in the home setting by examiners bilingual in English and Spanish. After the stories were completed, they were coded using the Attachment Story Completion Task Q-Sort (Miljkovitch et al., 2004) to examine children's representations of the attachment relationship. Children's teachers also filled out questionnaires assessing their perception of their relationship with the target child.

Story stem interview. We used the MSSB to capture children's representations of child-parent relationships (Bretherton & Oppenheim, 2003; Emde, Wolf, & Oppenheim, 2003). The MSSB was administered individually in the home setting as part of a larger battery of tasks by examiners bilingual in English and Spanish to children in whichever language the child was more comfortable. We determined the language of task administration partially on parents' reports of their children's primary speaking language, as well as on the interviewer's previous interactions with the child (see Vu, Bailey, & Howes, 2010). The MSSB has been used extensively with preschool-age children, including samples of Latino children (Schechter et al., 2007).

The story stem battery that was utilized included eight stories for the mother (Spilt Juice, Mom's Headache, Hot Soup, Parental Quarrel, Stealing Candy, Cut Finger, Departure, and Reunion) and four stories for the teacher (Spilt Juice, Hurt Knee, Departure, and Reunion). Fewer story stems were used for the teacher because there were fewer pertinent stems from the battery available that could be adapted for use in the school setting with the teacher as the attachment figure. Stories were administered in the same order for each child, with all child-mother story stems presented first, followed by child-teacher story stems. Children took a short break in between each set of story stems. All of the children received a 5-minute break, and several children required up to a 10-minute break, which was provided at the discretion of the interviewer. We did not retain data on the length of the break.

Each story presents a different attachment-related issue centered on a child doll protagonist, such as situations involving mishaps, tear, pain, or separation and reunion. The presentation of each story stem involved a combination of dolls, including a child protagonist, mother, father, one same-gender sibling, grandmother, teacher, and school friends. In addition, toy props of household or schoolroom items were utilized in each story. The gender of the child doll protagonist was matched to the gender of the child being interviewed. To facilitate the development of rapport and to ensure the child's understanding of the task, a warm-up story (Birthday Cake) was administered at the beginning of the exercise but not coded. Narratives were videotaped and audio-recorded. The child sat facing the camera, with the toy props between child and video camera.

For each story completion task, the examiner enacted the story stem physically with the toy props while narrating aloud. After presenting the stem for each story, the examiner prompted the child to "show me and tell me what happens now." If the child did not engage in the story or gave only a minimal response, the examiner modeled verbal descriptions of what the story characters were doing and character speech. For example, if the child did not spontaneously begin to narrate a birthday sequence after the Birthday Cake story stem prompt, the examiner could either narrate, "They are eating cake" or make the child doll protagonist say, "That cake tastes good." However, no such modeling occurred during the task proper. If the child began to narrate a story but did not address the main story issue, a story stem-specific prompt was used to help the child remain on-task. This prompt was used only once, as avoidance of the central story issue may be related to insecure-avoidant mother-child attachment (see Bretherton & Oppenheim, 2003). If the child did not finish the story in an obvious manner (usually by announcing that he was done), the examiner prompted for the end of the story, for example, by asking, "How does this story end?" Neutral feedback, such as, "Thank you for telling me the story," was given to the child when the story stem was completed.

Attachment Story Completion Task Q-Sort. The narratives elicited were then coded using a Q-sort procedure for attachment narratives, which focuses on the organization and manner of telling the narratives. Although the MSSB can relate to a wide variety of domains, the Q-sort looks at specific dimensions, which allows for a systematic and detailed evaluation of the elicited data and places less emphasis on the content of the narratives; rather, it delves more into the organization and manner of telling the narratives (Miljkovitch et al., 2004).

The 65 Q-items were given criterion sort values following a normal distribution for each of the four attachment dimensions: security, deactivation, hyperactivation, and disorganization. The attachment dimensions were based on findings of previous work on attachment relationships in adults and children (Miljkovitch et al., 2004). The security dimension is characterized by the child being able to depict a wide range of affective states. Additionally, when a distressing situation is presented, the child narrator does not avoid the situation but rather tells a story in which the child doll protagonist seeks security from the parental/teacher doll figures. Items most characteristic of the security dimension included, "The child's stories suggest that protagonists empathically share or appropriately respond to each others' emotions" and "The child collaborates with the interviewer and seems happy to respond." The deactivation dimension is characterized by the child being ill at ease and/or inactive. The child narrates the actions of the dolls involved in the task as socially isolated rather than engaging in relationships with one another. Items most characteristic of the deactivation dimension included, "The child seems ill at ease (is restrained in his or her speech and manipulation of the protagonists and props)" and "Reunion story: The child diverts his or her attention from the story theme or does not make the protagonists reunite." The hyperactivation dimension is characterized by the child being interested in the task, but narrations are restricted in tone and scope. The child also tends to focus on negative aspects of the story. Items most characteristic of the hyperactivation dimension included, "The child maintains interest in the task throughout the session, whether or not he or she actively engages in story-telling/enacting" and "The child exhibits signs of fear or anxious behaviors." Finally, the disorganization dimension is characterized by stories that are marked by a loss of control, including either catastrophic endings or doll characters being depicted as helpless and unprotected, as well as by the narratives being disorganized and incoherent. Items most characteristic of the disorganization dimension include, "The child brings up themes of aggression and/or destruction (e.g., severe punishment, killing)" and "The child introduces additional negative themes into the story, rather than resolving what was presented."

After watching each set of story stems, the 65 Q-items were sorted into seven piles, ranging from most characteristic to least characteristic, following a bell-shaped distribution (i.e., 5, 8, 12, 15, 12, 8, and 5 cards per pile). The resulting Q-sort yielded four Q-scores, each a correlation between the criterion sort for each attachment dimension, with the Q-sort reflecting the child's overall behavior. Therefore, each child had eight Q-scores, four for the child-mother narratives and four for the child-teacher narratives. The Q-scores fell along a continuum ranging from - 1 to + 1. (See Miljkovitch et al., 2004, for detailed descriptions of this measure.)

Two coders completed the Q-sorts using the videotape and a bilingual transcript of the audiotape. Both coders established inter-rater reliability, defined as placement of cards in identical piles, with the first 10 tapes, and then reestablished reliability every fifth tape (median kappa = .73). Neither coder collected the narrative data. Both coders were blind with respect to the hypotheses of the study, the identity of the children, and any previous data collected on the children. The audio- and videotapes of children's narratives about mothers and about teachers were kept separate and were coded in a random order over a 12-month period. For no child were the mother and teacher stories coded within the same month.

Student-Teacher Relationship Scale. Children's child-teacher relationship functioning was assessed with the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale (STRS; Pianta, 1992), a 28-item self-report questionnaire that was designed to assess teachers' perceptions of their relationship with a particular student. The teacher reports feelings about and observations of a child, in addition to beliefs about how the child feels about him or her. The STRS has been used extensively in studies of preschool-age and elementary-age children (Birch & Ladd, 1997, 1998; Hamre & Pianta, 2005) and has shown validity with regard to predicting academic and social functioning in prekindergarten though the elementary grades (Hamre & Pianta, 2001).

The items, which use a 5-point Likert-type format (1 = definitely does not apply, 2 = does not really apply, 3 = neutral, not sure, 4 = applies somewhat, 5 = definitely applies), were written to assess a teacher's feelings about his or her relationship with a student, as well as to assess feelings and beliefs about the student's behavior towards him or her, and primarily look at two factors: conflict and closeness. The conflict scale assesses the degree of negative interactions and emotions involving the teacher and child. The closeness scale assesses the degree of positive interactions and emotions involving the teacher and child. The scale was administered at the end of the school year so that teachers had the longest time possible to form an impression of their relationship with the child. Cronbach's alpha for the conflict subscale was .85 for this sample and .87 for the closeness subscale. Teachers, on average, rated their relationships as relatively neutral in terms of conflict (M = 3.09, SD = 1.61) and between being not really close and neutral in terms of closeness (M = 2.69, SD = 1.50).


Representations of Child-Mother and Child-Teacher Attachment Relationships

Children's average scores on the ASCT Q-Sort were highest for the security dimension and lowest for the disorganization dimension for the child-mother story stems and the child-teacher story stems. These scores were calculated by using Pearson's correlation formula to calculate the proximity between the criterion sorts for each dimension and the item placements performed by the raters (Miljkovitch et al., 2004). In general, scores for the security dimension for child-mother and child-teacher story stems were moderately positive, whereas scores for the deactivation, hyperactivation, and disorganization dimensions for child-mother and child-teacher story stems were moderately negative. Scores ranged from -.60 to .70 (see Table 1) and were normally distributed.

Children's Representations of Their Relationships With Mothers and Teachers

We used correlations to examine associations between children's representations of the child-mother attachment relationship and their representations of the child-teacher attachment relationship. In terms of security and deactivation, large positive correlations emerged between portrayals of child-mother and child-teacher security, child-mother and child-teacher deactivation, and child-mother and child-teacher disorganization, as did a moderate positive correlation between portrayals of child-mother and child-teacher hyperactivation (see Table 2). That is, with regard to attachment security, children who portrayed a more secure relationship with their mother also portrayed a more secure relationship with their teacher, and similarly so for the other three attachment dimensions.

We then used a repeated-measures multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) to compare the effects of caregiver and child gender on the portrayal of attachment relationships. There was a significant multivariate main effect for caregiver, F(4, 92) = 4.77, p < .01; [[eta].sup.2] = .17. Univariate F tests revealed a significant main effect of caregiver for child-caregiver deactivation, F(4, 92) = 3.69, p < .05; [[eta].sup.2] = .04, and child-caregiver hyperactivation, F(4, 92) = 12.72, p < .001; [[eta].sup.2] =. 12. Child-mother stories were lower on the deactivation dimension than child-teacher stories, whereas child-mother stories were higher on the hyperactivation dimension than child-teacher stories. There were no significant multivariate main effects for child gender, F(4, 92) = 1.70, n.s.; [[eta].sup.2] = .07; the interaction between caregiver and gender was also not significant, F(4, 92) = 1.26, n.s.; [[eta].sup.2] = .05 (Table 3).

Associations Between Children's Portrayals of Relationships and Teachers' Perceptions

We computed correlations to examine associations between children's portrayals of the child-teacher attachment relationship and teachers' perceptions of their relationships with children. Children who portrayed higher levels of security in child-mother representations also had teachers who reported experiencing a closer relationship with them, r(77) = .23, p < 0.05. Children who portrayed stories with higher levels in the hyperactivation dimension with their teachers had teachers who reported experiencing higher levels of conflict with them, r(77) = .25, p < 0.05. There were no other significant correlations between children's portrayals of child-caregiver relationships and teachers' perceptions of their relationships with children (Table 4).


Although the child-mother attachment relationship has been extensively studied in previous literature, much less is known about attachment relationships the young child may form with other attachment figures, such as preschool caregivers or teachers, particularly in Mexican-heritage children. Our findings suggest that children who have organized working models of their relationship with mothers also may have organized working models of their relationship with teachers. For instance, very high correlations existed between portrayals of the child-mother relationship and the child-teacher relationship along the security dimension. This finding is supported by the notion that children who have experienced positive parental relationships have similar processes for forming attachment relationships with teachers as they do mothers (Howes & Spieker, 2008). Additionally, the high correlations between representations of child-mother and child-teacher insecurity along the deactivation dimension, along with the more modest correlations between representations of the two relationships along the hyperactivation dimension, suggest that children who have an insecure working model of their relationship with their mother may bring these negative expectations to the child-teacher relationship as well.

Despite the high levels of concordance, there were differences between children's portrayals of the child-mother and the child-teacher relationship for the deactivation and hyperactivation dimensions. Children's representations of teachers were more deactivated and less hyperactivated than their representations of mothers, perhaps because children believe that teachers are to be respected, feared, and not trusted, consistent with notions of being educado (Delgado-Gaitan, 1992; Leyendecker et al., 2002). However, this result may have occurred because children were administered the child-teacher stories after the child-mother stories; the children might have been more relaxed with the interviewer and the task in general.

It is interesting to note that the children who did portray higher levels of hyperactivation with the teacher also had teachers who reported feeling more conflict with these children. This finding is consistent with that of previous research with dominant-culture children. Although avoidant children are easier for the teacher to ignore, children who are considered to be more anxious according to AQS observations are rated by teachers as more problematic, as they have maladaptive ways of interacting with teachers (Howes & Ritchie, 1999, 2002). Furthermore, children who have internalized positive relationships with mothers may carry this attitude into their relationships with teachers, as evidenced by the relationship between representations of security in child-mother narratives and teacher self-reported closeness. Thus, children whose narratives have more portrayals of a wide range of affective states, and are more willing to have the doll protagonist be near or accept comfort from mother doll figures, are more likely to have teachers who believe they have more positive interactions and emotions with them.

Whether it is the children's or the teachers' behavior driving these relationships is beyond the scope of this study. Regardless, the ways that teachers perceive relationships with their students undoubtedly has an effect, whether consciously or unconsciously, on how they interact with these children. Of note, teachers in this study generally seemed not to have any strong feelings toward their students, in either a positive or negative direction, as evidenced by their overall ratings of the child-teacher relationship. These lukewarm feelings are somewhat surprising, given that teachers' perceptions of their relationships with children were assessed at the end of the school year. Further awareness of how both members of the dyad perceive the same relationship can have important implications, given the role that positive teacher-child relationships play in enhancing children's academic, social, and cognitive abilities (e.g., Hamre & Pianta, 2001, 2005).

By examining the same relationship through different lenses, we are able to gain a more comprehensive picture of the child-teacher relationship and how children's representations of their attachment relationships with mothers and teachers are related to the child-teacher relationship.

We do find some concordance between the representations of the child-mother and child-teacher relationships, which suggests that for children, the process of forming attachment relationships, indeed, may be similar for parents and alternative caregivers (Howes & Spieker, 2008). Given the absence of a perfect agreement, however, this suggests that the child-mother and child-teacher relationships nonetheless may be related yet independent (Ahnert et al., 2006). Children may have a working model of attachment formed initially with the mother that is then extrapolated to the teacher; however, given that the child-teacher relationship takes place in a different context, differences in the two relationships should be expected.

Further research is needed to replicate these findings with a different population, because there is some indication in the literature that Mexican-heritage children may be more likely than others to respect and appreciate their teachers (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 2001) and to perceive the teacher as an authority figure and be more polite in their interactions (Delgado-Gaitan, 1992; Ramirez & Castaneda, 1974). Thus, this finding may or may not be representative of children from other cultural backgrounds.

A limitation of this study is, for purposes of the larger Early Head Start evaluation study, that all of the child-mother narratives were completed before the child-teacher narratives. Thus, it is possible that children might have been repeating similar stories even though different attachment figures were featured in the story stems. Some differences were apparent between children's portrayal of the child-mother attachment relationship and the child-teacher attachment relationship, however, suggesting that children, at least sometimes, did tell different stories for different attachment figures.

The following examples were taken from the narrative of the same child, illustrating the different stories produced even though the same story stem, Spilt Juice, was used. In this scenario, the child protagonist doll, Rhonda, is sitting at a table with her family (in the child-mother story) or with her teacher and classmates (in the child-teacher story). Rhonda is made to spill the pitcher of juice, at which point the interviewer asks the child narrator to finish telling the story.

Child-mother story:

Child (C): Mama la va a reganar. (Mother will scold her.)

Interviewer (I): Mama la regaha. Aver, ensename como mama regana a Rhonda. (Mother will scold her. Let me see, show me how mother scolds Rhonda.)

C: Y despues habla, y dice, "Ya no hagas eso mi hija porque sino te ... sino te roy apegar." (And then she talks. And says, "Don't do that, my daughter, otherwise I will ... otherwise I will spank you.)

I: ?Que mas pasa? (What else happens?)

C: Despues se fue. Y despues junto el jugo. (Then she left. And later she wiped up the juice.)

I: ?Quien junto el jugo? (Who wiped up the juice?)

C: La mama. Despues junto los vasos. (The mother. Then she picked up all the glasses.)

Child-teacher story:

C: Queria mas jugo. Despues lo agarra y lo avienta. (She [Rhonda] wanted more juice. Then she gets hold of it and throws it.)

I: ?Que? ?Lo avienta? (What? She throws it?)

C: Si. (Yes.)

I: ?Y que mas pasa? (And then what happens?)

C: Fue todo el jugo. Y no se lo queria acabar ... (All the juice is gone. And she didn't want to finish it...")

I: ?Que no se queria acabar? (What is it that she didn't want to finish?)

C: El jugo. Despues ella ya acabo el jugo. (The juice. Then she finished all the juice.)

I: Despues ell ya acabo todo. ?Que pasa con el jugo que estaba tirado en el piso? (Then she finished it all. What happens with the juice that is spilled on the floor?)

C: Que ella lo tenia que limpiar. (She had to clean it.)

I: ?Quien tenia que limpiar el jugo? (Who had to clean the juice?)

C: Rhonda. Primero lo levanto. Despues se sentro. Comenzo a limpiar. Despues que acabo de limpia ... Despues ya se fue ... a su casa. (Rhonda. First she wiped it up. Then she sat down. She began to clean. After she finished cleaning ... then she left for home.)

In the child-mother story, the mother scolds the child, punishes her, and cleans up the juice. In the child-teacher story, however, the child throws the glass but then cleans up the juice herself. This example illustrates the differences between two stories with two different attachment figures that were prompted by the same story stem. Given that this child has higher scores on the deactivation dimension and lower scores on the hyperactivation dimension in child-teacher stories than in child-mother stories, it further highlights the aforementioned notion of educado, emphasizing this respect for the classroom scenario and how one should act while there.

Additionally, because the Mexican-heritage children in this sample are also all of low-socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds, it is not possible to disentangle influences each might have on attachment security. Studies looking at middle-class Mexican-heritage populations, as well as at low-SES White populations in urban areas, are needed not only to determine whether children in this study differ in attachment distribution in terms of ethnicity, but also due to social status.

A few existing studies have looked at infant populations and have compared patterns of attachment security to those exhibited by White infants (Fracasso, Busch-Rossnagel, & Fisher, 1994) and examined the behavioral patterns of securely attached infants across both cultures (Harwood et al., 1995). The paucity of extant research in this area, however, highlights the importance of studying diverse populations to attain fuller understanding of attachment relationships in non-White populations. Given that the Hispanic population is currently the largest and fastest growing minority community in the United States (Perez, 2004), with presumably increasing numbers of Latino children entering preschool, it is important to understand attachment relationships in this population, given the implications in terms of not only mother-child relationships, but also later teacher-child relationships.


In this study, we used a narrative story stem technique to tap into the internal working models of young Mexican-heritage children and determine whether their portrayals of child-teacher attachment relationships resemble their portrayals of child-mother attachment relationships. We also looked at teachers' perceptions, in terms of closeness and conflict, of these child-teacher relationships, to determine whether teachers viewed children in the same way that children viewed them. Although the findings in this study were relatively modest, we nonetheless believe that they contribute to the existing literature and provide a point from which to start for future research using this methodology and in studying this population. Children do sometimes portray different attachment relationships when it comes to their mothers and teachers. Stories about teachers have higher scores on the deactivation dimension and lower scores on the hyperactivation dimension than do stories about mothers, suggesting that a cultural element of the teacher as an authority figure to be respected comes into play with this population. Given the supportive and/or compensatory role that the nonmaternal caregiver might provide for young children, a better understanding of this relationship can also aid in understanding children's development in the out-of-home context.

This study extends the research on multiple attachment relationships, in particular the child-teacher attachment relationship. A particular strength is that it is the first known one to use the story stem technique and the ASC Task Q-Sort to look at children's portrayals of child-teacher attachment relationships and compare this to children's portrayals of child-mother attachment relationships. Additionally, we looked at what teachers thought of their relationships with their students, to examine whether there was a concordance between either of these measures and attachment representations, which has not been previously examined. Earlier studies generally focus on only one side of the relationship, rather than looking at the same relationship from multiple perspectives. Knowing how both parties perceive a relationship is important, especially because inherent in this relationship is a back-and-forth interaction between those involved. Furthermore, this study adds to growing body of research that highlights the importance of relationship processes in schools. A better understanding of the different viewpoints can then, perhaps, be parlayed, in this case, into more effective classroom management, such as in helping to construct better relationship-building skills.


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DOI: 10.1080/02568543.2011.632068

Jennifer A. Vu

University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware

Carollee Howes

University of California, Los Angeles, California

Submitted November 1, 2010; accepted January 10, 2011.

The findings reported here are based on research conducted as part of the National Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project with funding from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to the University of California, Los Angeles. The research is part of the independent research the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted with Children First Early Head Start, which is one of 17 programs participating in the national Early Head Start study. The authors are members of the Early Head Start Research Consortium. The consortium consists of representatives from the 17 programs participating in the evaluation, 15 local research teams, the evaluation contractors, and ACF. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

Address correspondence to Carollee Howes, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Box 951521, Los Angeles, CA 90095. E-mail:
Representations of Child-Mother and Child-Teacher Attachment

 M (SD) Median Minimum Maximum

Child-mother attachment

 Security .14 (.31) 0.21 -0.53 0.66
 Deactivation -.05 (.32) -0.11 -0.63 0.63
 Hyperactivation -.10 (.13) -0.12 -0.34 0.37
 Disorganization -.24 (.24) -0.26 -0.60 0.43


 Security .12 (.35) 0.18 -0.59 0.65
 Deactivation -.02 (.35) -0.11 -0.58 0.69
 Hyperactivation -.02 (.35) -0.18 -0.40 0.29
 Disorganization -.28 (.23) -0.30 -0.61 0.40

Associations Between Representations of Child-Mother and
Child-Teacher Attachment

 Child-teacher attachment

 Security Deactivation

Child-mother attachment
 Security .71 ** -.71 **
 Deactivation -.69 ** .71 **
 Hyperactivation -.30 ** .29 **
 Disorganization -.55 ** .50 **

 Child-teacher attachment

 Hyperactivation Disorganization

Child-mother attachment
 Security -.26 * -.53 **
 Deactivation .23 * .45 **
 Hyperactivation .36 ** .24 *
 Disorganization .27 * .59 **

* p<0.05. ** p <0.01.

Repeated-Measures Analyses of Variance for Representations of
Child-Mother and Child-Teacher Attachment

 Degrees of freedom

Source F hypothesis error n P

Multivariate tests
Caregiver (C) 4.77 ** 4 92 0.17 0.00
Gender (G) 1.70 4 92 0.07 0.16
C x G 1.26 4 92 0.05 0.29

Univariate tests for
main effect of caregiver

Security 2.53 1 95 0.03 0.12
Deactivation 3.69 * 1 95 0.04 0.05
Hyperactivation 12.72 ** 1 95 0.12 0.00
Disorganization 2.04 1 95 0.02 0.16

* p<0.05. ** p<0.01.

Associations Between Children's Representations and Teachers'
Perceptions of Conflict and Closeness

 Conflict Closeness

Child-mother representations
 Security -.03 .23 *
 Deactivation .02 -.20
 Hyperactivation .00 -.02
 Disorganization -.03 -.13

Child-teacher representations
 Security .02 .11
 Deactivation -.07 -.03
 Hyperactivation .23 * -.14
 Disorganization .06 -.08

* p < 0.05.
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Author:Vu, Jennifer A.; Howes, Carollee
Publication:Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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