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Not only do strong parent-child bonds mean that kids are more likely to be attentive to friends, they're also more assertive in the face of difficult peers, say researchers at the University of Illinois.
As a first step in their study, researchers assessed the relationships between 114 children and their mothers.
Parents were asked to describe their children's social courage and susceptibility to anger.
The same children were observed at 39 months, paired off with a peer of the same gender.
Researchers observed the interactions of the pairs in a series of three visits over a period of one month.
Those with strong bonds to their parents reacted positively in the first meeting of their new friend and were attentive even if the other child was likely to react in anger.
"Securely attached children are more responsive to suggestions or requests made by a new peer partner," says Nancy McElwain, a U of I professor of human development. "A child who has experienced a secure attachment relationship with caregivers is likely to come into a new peer relationship with positive expectations."
Yet if the new peer partner reacted in anger, children with strong bonds to their parents lost enthusiasm for the friendship.
"A more securely attached child was also likely to use suggestions and requests rather than commands and intrusive behavior -- such as grabbing toys away -- during play with an anger-prone peer during the first two visits," says McElwain.
When their peer partners' anger spells came into full play, the children with strong bonds adapted to the situation in self-defense.
"By the final visit, a child with a secure attachment had adjusted to the controlling assertiveness of her anger-prone partner by becoming more controlling herself," says McElwain.
McElwain reminds parents that a child's difficult temperament does not mean the parental bond isn't strong enough, also noting that social courage played a role in children's assertiveness, regardless of the bond they shared with their parents.
The study was published in Developmental Psychology.