Social Learning Theory Parenting Intervention Promotes Attachment-Based Caregiving in Young Children: Randomized Clinical Trial

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Abstract

Parenting programs for school-aged children are typically based on behavioral principles as applied in social learning theory. It is not yet clear if the benefits of these interventions extend beyond aspects of the parent-child relationship quality conceptualized by social learning theory. The current study examined the extent to which a social learning theory-based treatment promoted change in qualities of parent-child relationship derived from attachment theory. A randomized clinical trial of 174 four- to six-year-olds selected from a high-need urban area and stratified by conduct problems were assigned to a parenting program plus a reading intervention (n = 88) or nonintervention condition (n = 86). In-home observations of parent-child interactions were assessed in three tasks: (a) free play, (b) challenge task, and (c) tidy up. Parenting behavior was coded according to behavior theory using standard count measures of positive and negative parenting, and for attachment theory using measures of sensitive responding and mutuality; children's attachment narratives were also assessed. Compared to the parents in the nonintervention group, parents allocated to the intervention showed increases in the positive behavioral counts and sensitive responding; change in behavioral count measures overlapped modestly with change in attachment-based changes. There was no reliable change in children's attachment narratives associated with the intervention. The findings demonstrate that standard social learning theory-based parenting interventions can change broader aspects of parent-child relationship quality and raise clinical and conceptual questions about the distinctiveness of existing treatment models in parenting research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358 - 370
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Volume42
Issue number3
Early online date28 Sept 2012
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2012

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