Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 26, Issue 8, pp 2311–2323 | Cite as

Investigating Direct and Indirect Effects of Attachment on Internalizing and Externalizing Problems through Emotion Regulation in a Cross-Sectional Study

  • Catrinel A. ŞtefanEmail author
  • Julia Avram
Original Paper


The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between attachment, emotion regulation (ER), and risk for internalizing/externalizing problems in typically developing children. To this end, a mediation model was proposed in which attachment security was hypothesized to exert an indirect effect on internalizing/externalizing problems through ER. A sample of 212 preschoolers aged between 3 and 5 years old was included in the study. Children’s attachment representations were assessed using the Attachment Story Completion Task (ASCT); a story-stem task was also employed to evaluate children’s ability to generate ER strategies in response to anger, sadness, and fear eliciting vignettes. Parents and teachers evaluated risk for emotional and behavioral problems using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), and the Caregiver-Teacher Report Form (C-TRF), respectively. The results showed that effective ER strategies mediated the relationship between attachment security and internalizing problems, but not externalizing problems. Furthermore, when effective ER strategies were differentiated, attachment security had a significant indirect effect on internalizing problems through problem-solving, but not on externalizing problems. Comforting was associated with increased attachment security, but not with ratings of internalizing/externalizing problems. Distraction was not associated with attachment security, and hence, exhibited only direct effects on reducing levels of internalizing and externalizing problems These findings suggested that in typically developing children distraction and problem-solving strategies might act as protective factors against mental health problems, but only problem-solving seems to be associated with children’s perception about attachment when measured on a continuum from insecure to secure attachment.


Attachment Internalizing problems Externalizing problems Emotion regulation Preschool 


Author Contributions

C.A.Ş: designed and executed the study, performed the data analyses, and wrote the manuscript. J.A.: collaborated on the design, the study’s execution, and the editing of the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBabeş-Bolyai University Cluj-NapocaRomania

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