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Child Abuse Negl. 1992;16(3):329-43.

Children's strategies for coping with adverse home environments: an interpretation using attachment theory.

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  • 1Mailman Center for Child Development, University of Miami, FL.


The coping strategies of four groups of maltreated children were compared with those of adequately reared children. The children were videotaped in a brief play session with their mothers, then in the Strange Situation, and finally during free play while the parent(s) were being interviewed. The coded videotapes of mother-child interaction yielded four scores for the children: cooperation, compulsive compliance, difficultness, and passivity. The coded videotapes of the Strange Situation yielded ten patterns of child attachment to the mother. The coded observations of play during the interview were analyzed in terms of seven child behaviors. The results indicated that abused, and abused-and-neglected children were difficult or compliant in interaction with their mothers, avoidant under stress, and aggressive with siblings; neglected children were cooperative in play with the mother, anxious under stress, and aggressive with siblings; adequately reared children were cooperative with both their mothers and siblings and secure under stress. Older children who had experienced abuse were less difficult and more compulsively compliant. Both marginally maltreated and adequately reared 1-year-olds were more difficult than either older or younger children from those groups but at all ages cooperation was the dominant pattern. The coherencies in the children's coping strategies were interpreted in terms of underlying internal representational models of relationships.

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