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Characteristics of the Parent-Child Relationship

by Erica Loop

Whether you are expecting your first baby or you have a brood big enough to start your own t-ball team, wondering if your parent-child relationship is, or will be, a positive one is completely normal. According to the Provider-Parent Partnership at Purdue University, there are four main types of parent-child relationships: secure, avoidant, ambivalent and disorganized. Each type has its own specific characteristics.

Secure Relationships

The secure relationship, according to the Provider-Parent Partnership, is the strongest and most positive type of attachment that a parent and child can have. The main characteristic of this type of relationship is the feeling that the child can depend on the parent. Although a securely attached child may cry when mom or dad leaves her at day care or with a babysitter, the child also understands that the parent is coming back for her. For example, it's the first day of preschool and your 4-year-old throws a fit when you walk out the door. Don't fret, because after you leave, it's likely that her teacher will engage her in an activity and she will settle down quickly. When you return to pick her up, she gleefully greets you and may even want to stay at school for awhile longer.

Avoidant Relationships

While the securely attached relationship shows signs of trust and reliance on an adult, an avoidant relationship often means that the child feels that he can't depend on mom or dad. Characteristics of children in an avoidant parent-child relationship often include acting overly independent, not asking adults for help when it is needed, trouble interacting or playing with peers and a nonchalant or seemingly uncaring attitude when a parent leaves or returns. On the parent's side, this type of relationship is typically characterized by ignoring or disregarding the child's request for help, leaving the child to deal with his own problems or taking an overly long amount of time to respond to a child's needs or demands. This type of relationship may eventually result in much more serious effects such as depression or social withdrawal.

Ambivalent Relationships

An ambivalent parent-child relationship is another negative form of attachment in which the child may exhibit insecure types of characteristics. Unlike avoidant children who tend to keep their distance from adults or act overly independent, an ambivalent attachment often results in kids who seem anxious or frustrate easily. Children in this type of dynamic may turn to their parents, looking for support or help, but then quickly turn and try to move away. Parents who exhibit ambivalent behaviors in their relationships with their children may respond in an off-and-on manner, ignoring the child at times and giving her attention at others.

Disorganized Relationships

While children in ambivalent parent-child relationships may seem somewhat confused when it comes to if and when the parent will give them attention, kids in disorganized attachments take this characteristic to the extreme. Family Science Specialist Sean Brotherson, at the North Dakota State University, notes that children in this type of relationship act in an unpredictable manner and may have poor coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with stress or emotional situations. Additionally, according to the Provider-Parent Partnership, children in a disorganized relationship may have difficulty understanding other people's emotions and act in a nonsensical or confusing way. Parents in this dynamic either show little or confusing responses to the child's needs and may act neglectful.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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