Parent-child attachment and internalizing symptoms in childhood and adolescence: a review of empirical findings and future directions

Dev Psychopathol. Winter 2010;22(1):177-203. doi: 10.1017/S0954579409990344.


The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the theory and evidence for the links of parent-child attachment with internalizing problems in childhood and adolescence. We address three key questions: (a) how consistent is the evidence that attachment security or insecurity is linked to internalizing symptoms, anxiety, and depression? (b) How consistent is the evidence that specific forms of insecurity are more strongly related to internalizing symptoms, anxiety, and depression than are other forms of insecurity? (c) Are associations with internalizing symptoms, anxiety, and depression consistent for mother-child and father-child attachment? The current findings are consistent with the hypothesis that insecure attachment is associated with the development of internalizing problems. The links between specific insecure attachment patterns and internalizing problems are difficult to evaluate. Father-child and mother-child attachments have a comparable impact, although there are relatively few studies of father-child attachment. No moderators consistently affect these relations. We also propose two models of how attachment insecurity may combine with other factors to lead to anxiety or depression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Child
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Object Attachment*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Self Concept