The Meaning of the Child to the Parent’: The Development and Validation of a New Method of Classifying Parenting Interviews for the nature of the Parent-Child Relationship

Ben Grey

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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ABSTRACT‘The aim of this research has been to develop and validate a new method, called the 'Meaning of the Child', to assess the psychological meaning all children have for their parents, but which in cases of risk, submerge or distort the child's identity (Reder & Duncan 1995). The method analyses parental discourse in semi-structured interviews using attachment theory, understood dyadically, from the perspective of both parent and child.In its analysis of parental representations of Caregiving, the Meaning of the Child integrates an understanding of adult self-protective defensive processes drawn from attachment theory, in particular Crittenden’s theory of adult information processing in conditions of threat (Crittenden & Landini 2011) with the concept of 'inter­subjective dialogues', where parent and child co­construct the meaning of the other (Beebe et al., 2012a & 2012b).The coding method was developed from interviews drawn from the researcher’s work with children and families in the family court system, and then tested with a sample of 85 mothers and fathers, 62 of whom were parents drawn from this ‘at risk’ context. The remaining 23 were drawn from a US sample of normative mothers. The Parent Development Interview (PDI: Aber et al. 1985-2003) was used to assess parenting representations and coded for Parental Reflective Functioning (RF: Slade et al. 2005) and the new Meaning of the Child (MotC) system. The parents were also videoed in a short free­play interaction, using the CARE­Index (Crittenden 2007), a dyadically constructed assessment of parental sensitivity.A strong relationship was found between the Meaning of the Child level of Sensitivity/Risk, assessed from how parents spoke about their child, and the nature of their contingent responsiveness, assessed using the CARE­Index. Statistically significant correlations were also found between the level of Unresponsiveness and Control in both the MotC and the CARE­Index. The level of Sensitivity/Risk in the Meaning of the Child was also related to parental RF. The contribution of the Meaning of the Child to understanding the shaping of infant attachment relationships (the problem of the ‘transmission of attachment’, [Van IJzendoorn, 1995]), and as an assessment tool to assist intervention with ‘at risk’ relationships, is discussed and illustrated with case example material. The results of the statistical study together with this analysis, provides good evidence for the Meaning of the Child as a construct, and as an assessment tool to identify and assess the nature of 'at risk' parent­child relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
  • Farnfield, Stephen, Director of Studies
  • Dubowski, Janek, Co-supervisor
Award date31 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2014

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