This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Parent-Child Conflict and Children’s Sleep: Attachment Security as a Moderator or Mediator




Minor, Audrey

Type of Degree



Human Development and Family Studies


Findings in recent years have highlighted sleep problems in children as a growing epidemic throughout the world (National Sleep Foundation, 2004; Sadeh, Raviv, & Gruber, 2000). Dahl and El-Sheikh (2007) propose that in order for children to sleep well, they must feel secure enough to reach a state of lowered vigilance and the family is an important place where this security is drawn. Parent-child conflict can be a severely distressing event for children (Lewis, Siegel, & Lewis, 1984) and has been associated with various child adjustment problems (Barber & Delfabbro, 2000). However, the research is scarce concerning parent-child conflict as a factor in children’s sleep. Though a few studies have been able to show the role that parent-child interactions play in outcomes such as the amount of sleep in children (Adam, Snell, & Pendry, 2007; Bates et al., 2002), results are inconsistent. Attachment security has also been shown to be v associated with various child adjustment outcomes (add citation). This study will provide a clearer understanding of associations between parent-child conflict, attachment security, and sleep difficulties in children. The sample consisted of 136 children (76 girls) ages 8 to 12 (M = 10.69, SD = .55). 70% of families were European American (EA) and 30% were African American (AA). The sample encompassed the full range of socioeconomic levels as determined by the five factor Hollingshead Index. Children reported on their own sleepiness and sleep/wake problems, as well as on levels of parent-child conflict and attachment security. Both parents reported on parent-child conflict and general sleep problems in children. Actigraph devices were worn by children to assess sleep activity. Results indicated significant direct links between both parent-child conflict and subjective reports of sleep problems, as well as between attachment security and sleep problems. Direct effects were stronger when child-reports of physical conflict were considered, which may indicate an increased risk for children’s sleep problems in the context of physical conflict rather than psychological. Further, findings support attachment security as a moderator in the link between physical parent-child conflict (parent report) and subjective sleep problems (parent and child reports). Mediation effects for attachment security were only found in the link between parent-report of psychological parent-child conflict and sleep/wake problems in children. Implications for further research concerning the parent-child relationship are discussed.