The impact of relatedness with mother on school functioning in maltreated children

Sheree L. Toth, Dante Cicchetti

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40 Scopus citations


In this prospective investigation, the role of children's relationships with their mothers in affecting school adaptation is examined in maltreated and nonmaltreated children. Hypotheses that a secure relationship with mother would foster positive school adaptation, while an insecure relationship would contribute to maladaptive functioning were partially confirmed. Nonmaltreated children who reported optimal/adequate (secure) patterns of relatedness to mother exhibited less externalizing symptomatology, more ego-resilience, and fewer school record risk factors than did maltreated children who reported nonoptimal (insecure) patterns of relatedness. Within the nonmaltreated group of children, optimal/adequate patterns of relatedness exerted a positive effect on school functioning. Interestingly, for maltreated youngsters this was true only with respect to school record data. For teacher-rated externalizing symptomatology and social acceptance, maltreated children with nonoptimal patterns of relatedness to mother evidenced more positive adaptation than did maltreated children with optimal/adequate patterns of relatedness. The possible role of defensive processing in some maltreated children is examined, as is the possible negative effect of having a positive relationship with a maltreating caregiver. The presence of a compulsive compliant strategy also is addressed. Results are interpreted within an attachment theory framework that emphasizes the role of the child's representation of the caregiver in affecting future adaptation. Implications of these findings for the importance of an integration between school and family in promoting school adjustment in children at risk for school failure are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-266
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of school psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Child maltreatment
  • Relatedness
  • School functioning

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