A child who has a strong relationship with Mom during preschool years tends to form closer friendships in grade school, finds a new study that also indicates why.
"In a secure, emotionally open mother-child relationship, children develop a more positive, less biased understanding of others, which then promotes more positive friendships during the early school years," said researcher Nancy McElwain of the University of Illinois.
Scientists have known about the link between attachment with the mother and a child's resulting friendship quality, but they haven't fully understood why.
McElwain and colleagues studied data on 1,071 children from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Researchers assessed mother-child attachment at age three. They also assessed how openly mothers and children acknowledged and communicated about their emotions when the child was four and a half.
At four and a half years and again in first grade, children were assessed for language ability and how hostile they tended to be in reacting to playground social situations. Also, mothers and teachers were asked to report on the child's general peer competence in first grade and the quality of the child's relationship with his or her closest friend in third grade.
Children who were securely attached to Mom at age three showed more open emotional communication with mothers and better language ability at four and a half.
"Open emotional communication in turn predicted fewer hostile attributions at first grade, which predicted greater teacher-reported friendship quality at third grade," McElwain explained. "This finding suggests that the way children interpret other people's behavior may begin to develop in the context of early relationships in the family, and these interpretations may be important for a child's ability to get along with friends later on.
Also, open emotional communication and language ability at age four and a half was related to mother- and teacher-reported friendship quality via the child's general peer competence in first grade.
"When kids feel comfortable talking about their emotions, especially their negative emotions, it increases their social competence with classmates and leads to closer friendships," she said.
The findings were detailed in the journal Child Development.