The aim of the current study was to investigate the associations between attachment representations, social behaviors and adjustment during transition from preschool to elementary school. More specifically the researchers attempted to address three distinct issues: the way attachment representations are linked to school adaptation and social behaviors, the way social behaviors are associated with school adaptation and how the combination of attachment representation and social behaviors shape transition from preschool to elementary school.
One hundred and three Turkish students with a mean age of 6.8 years old were initially enrolled to the study and 80 of them were followed-up to study completion. Attachment representation was evaluated with the use of a reliable and valid instrument, the Incomplete Stories with Doll Family (ISDF), which has been translated and standardized in a Turkish population. The instrument was directly administered to the children and a summary score was elicited for each child, which reflected the security of the attachment. Likewise, social behaviors were assessed by the Teacher Assessment of Social Behavior Questionnaire which was translated in the Turkish language for that particular study. This questionnaire generates three scores which correspond to three distinct dimensions of social behaviors, namely prosocial, shy/withdrawn and aggressive/disruptive behavior. Both instruments have been used in previous research and have satisfying psychometric properties. In addition, the authors in order to evaluate first-grade students’ social and behavioral adjustment to school, they developed an original 10-item questionnaire named the Adaptation to School in the First Month Questionnaire (ASFMQ). Based on relevant research, this psychometric tool focused on four domains including the child’s ability to adjust to routines, comply with limits, participate in structured activities, and form positive relationships with teachers and peers. The TASB was completed by teachers at the end of preschool and subsequently the ISDF was administered to all participants. In the following academic year, after the first month of the first grade, teachers were asked to complete the ASFMQ and finally at the end of the first grade teachers completed the TASB.
The analysis of the ISDF revealed that 41.3% of the children had secure/confident attachment, 43.8% had insecure/avoidant attachment and 15% had insecure/hostile
negative attachment. Prosocial behavior was negatively correlated with shy/withdrawn and aggressive/hostile behavior both at preschool and in the first grade. Shy/withdrawn behavior was positively associated with aggressive/hostile behavior at preschool, however no similar correlations emerged in the first grade. Attachment security was positively correlated with prosocial behaviors and school adaptation and negatively associated with shy/withdrawn and aggressive/hostile behaviors in both time intervals. Moreover children with low scores in the shy/withdrawn and aggressive/hostile behaviors subscales and high scores in the prosocial behaviors subscale presented with better school adaptation. The authors, then proceeded to a multiple regression analysis to reveal which parameters were independently correlated with the degree of school adaptation. Attachment representation and shy/withdrawn behaviors emerged as the sole independent predictors of children’s adjustment to elementary school. Finally the authors compared children with secure and insecure attachment and they were found to differ significantly in school adaptation, prosocial behaviors at preschool and aggressive/hostile behaviors in the first grade.
This article addresses an important issue in the field of child development, the associations between attachment, social behaviors and school adaptation. As the authors emphasize in the introduction section, transition to elementary school is of major significance for children’s later academic and social achievements. Given that attachment representations reflect the child’s internal working models of interpersonal relationships which shape future social bonds, it would be interesting to clarify whether these representations are correlated with social behaviors and school adaptation. The researchers conducted an original study on a challenging topic, with a prospective, longitudinal design and a relatively large sample, which add greater validity in their findings. In addition, at the end of the discussion section they made useful recommendations for expanding that kind of research to different populations and different educational settings.
A major limitation of the study was the fact that they used a novel instrument to assess school adaptation, which has never been used before in research and has never been properly validated. In addition, they chose to assess school adaptation during the first month of elementary school, although according to clinical practice and the current diagnostic classification systems, the first month of school is considered a period of adjustment and the associated difficulties that may emerge are usually resolved with no major implications for the child’s future development.
The use of the ISDF revealed that almost 60% of the participants had insecure attachments, whereas in the literature the percentage of children with that type of attachment hardly reaches 35%. This controversy raises serious doubts regarding the use of the ISDF in this population. Despite the fact that the Turkish society encompasses both western and eastern/ muslim characteristics, it is rather unlikely that the majority of Turkish children exhibit insecure attachments to their caregivers.
Moreover, the authors failed to report any limitations of their study in the discussion section, including the lack of validated studies for one of the instruments they used and the unexpectedly high percentage of insecure attachment they found. In addition, discussion was relatively short and no major comments were included regarding the current research’s implications for policy and practice. Although the authors made a brief review of the existing literature on the issue in the introduction section and attempted to link these findings to the present results in the discussion section, to my opinion the clinical significance of these findings should be further emphasized. Finally, the article lacks a separate presentation of the statistical analysis which was used to analyze the data.
In conclusion, the current article describes an interesting study on a field which merits further research and clarification. The authors describe a wealth of results in a comprehensive manner, which despite the deficits in methodology, might be extremely useful in designing and implementing prevention strategies. The area of early child development and school adaptation can be the field of future, fruitful investigations. Linking attachment security to later social behaviors and adjustment to the school setting might prove a major advocate for systematic early interventions in the intrafamilial setting, aiming at improving the children’s psychosocial adjustment and reducing their emotional and behavioral difficulties in the future.