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Research Update: Sensory sensitivity and its relationship with adult attachment and parenting styles

“I was reflecting on the original ASI in MH case study I used when teaching about SI application in MH at a DBT Conference.

Convincing others SI was relevant beyond childhood and to my DBT colleagues in psychiatry in 2002 was a very tricky thing then. Wish I’d known then I’d be reading this today! How times have changed. “

Parenting styles vary in levels of both warmth and control, with evidence that type of parenting behavior is linked with social-emotional and other developmental outcomes for children. There are well-established associations between adult attachment and parenting styles. Given emerging evidence that people with different attachment patterns vary in how they receive and modulate sensory information, there are potential implications for parenting which have rarely received research attention. This cross-sectional study investigates the links between parenting style and parental sensory sensitivity, and the possible mediating role of parental sensory sensitivity in the relationship between adult attachment and parenting styles. A convenience sample of 155 parents of children aged 4–12 years old completed an online survey measuring: adult attachment (Experiences in Close Relationships-Modified 16-item Scale), sensory sensitivity (Highly Sensitive Persons Scale-Shortened Version), and parenting styles (Parenting Styles and Dimensions Questionnaire). Correlation, regression and mediation analyses were conducted. Analyses revealed that parents who reported more attachment insecurity also reported higher levels of parental sensory sensitivity, and more authoritarian and/or permissive (non-optimal) parenting styles. Parental sensory sensitivity was found to fully mediate the relationship between attachment avoidance and permissive parenting, and to partially mediate the relationship between attachment anxiety and both authoritarian and permissive parenting. This study represents the first quantitative evidence for associations between parental sensory sensitivity and parenting styles, and the mediating effect of parental sensory sensitivity on the known relationship between attachment insecurity and parenting. Awareness of a parent’s level of sensory sensitivity, in addition to his/her attachment style, may assist in developing effective strategies to meet both the parent’s and child’s needs and support the parent-child relationship.

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