Date of Award

Spring 1999

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



Committee Director

Suzanne Getz Gregg

Committee Member

J. D. Ball

Committee Member

Monica Crawford

Committee Member

Gretchen leFever

Committee Member

Barbara Winstead


While a great deal of research focuses on representations of attachment, behavioral disorders, and life stress separately, research integrating these concepts has just recently begun (DeKlyen, 1996). The current study focuses on the links between transgenerational attachment, life stress, maternal psychopathology, and the development of behavior problems in preschool boys. Participants included 52 mothers of preschool boys (Mean Age = 56 months) who attended private preschool (N = 23) or a Head Start Program (N = 29). Participants completed a battery of assessment instruments including the Attachment Style Inventory (ASI) (Sperling & Berman, 1991), the Q-Set (Waters & Deane, 1985), the Parenting Stress Index (PSI) (Abidin, 1983), the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) (Derogatis, 1982), and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) (Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1983). As predicted, child attachment security was found to be significantly correlated with child behavior problems ( p < .01). Chi-square analyses indicated that children with internalizing and externalizing behavior problems are more likely to have mothers with psychopathology (p < .05 and p < .01, respectively). Though there was a significant correlation between total dyadic stress and child attachment security (p < .01), there was not a significant relationship between life stress and child attachment security. A Pearson r indicated that higher levels of total dyadic stress were significantly correlated with behavior problems (p < .01), while level of life stress was not. Regression analyses indicated that total dyadic stress was the only singular variable significantly related to the development of externalizing (p < .0001) and internalizing (p < .01) behavior problems, and child attachment security (p < .001), while maternal psychopathology and attachment security were not. The current study did not exhibit a significant relationship between maternal attachment classification and child behavioral difficulties or child attachment security. No significant relationship between maternal psychopathology and child attachment security was revealed. No significant differences between the Head Start and Private Day Care populations were found in relation to behavior problems and child attachment security. Results indicate that in order to assess child attachment and child behavioral problems, the level of stress impacting the family must be considered. Alleviating the degree of stress impacting at-risk families through psychoeducational programs, parent counseling, and the enhancement of support networks could help alleviate later behavior problems and assist in the development of secure attachment relationships. To better understand the relationship between transgenerational attachment, life stress, and the development of childhood behavior problems, a larger investigation utilizing a high risk population is needed.


A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculties of The College of William and Mary, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk State University, and Old Dominion University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology through the Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology.