Do children always represent hope or something positive for their parents? In many cases, the reality is that children represent something else, such as disappointment, frustration, or even danger. In these cases, what the child means to the parent can create a source of parent-child conflict. The Meaning of the Child interview provides a parent-child attachment assessment using systemic and attachment science techniques to uncover how the nature of the parent-child relationship, the parent’s approach to their child, and the parent’s attachment pattern, can influence how a parent thinks and feels about their child. The MotC looks specifically how parenting impacts the child’s neuro-development.
This article describes the Meaning of the Child interview, how it works, what information it can provide family professionals, and links to training opportunities.
MotC: a Parent-child attachment assessment – overview
The Meaning of the Child interview (MotC) does not focus solely on the parent, or some attribute of the parent, or what the parent claims they think and feel about their child. It explores the actual real-world significance of the relationship between the parent and child and how the parent’s view of their child impacts their child on a daily basis. To assess the parent-child attachment issues, the MotC uses an advanced, yet simplified, discourse analysis method to look below the surface of what the parent seems to be or is actually saying to find the unstated communications the parent is giving to their child.
MotC concepts can be used in the moment, during a conversation, by helping professionals to understand what is really being communicated but hard to see. Properly used, it takes about an hour to assess several factors of the parent-child relationship and the parent’s broad attachment pattern.
MotC looks at:
- The parent’s general attachment pattern
- The parent’s sensitivity to their child,
- Level of responsiveness,
- The degree and forms of control a parent may utilize, and
- The nature of the parent’s ability to reflect on their experiences and the child’s needs.
With feedback on these types of issues, professionals can better determine if interventions might be needed and if so, where they can be specifically targeted to accomplish the most impact.
By using discourse analysis techniques for assessment, the way the parent speaks about their child, the Meaning of the Child interview does not rely on allegations of historical events. Thus, it can be an effective tool when past events are disputed, misunderstood, or factual evidence is missing. For example, it can often provide insightful information in cases of alleged sexual abuse and parental alienation.
What questions can the MotC help answer?
- Does a parent need intervention services?
- What is the parent’s general attachment pattern in relation to a particular child?
- Is the parent’s relationship with the child sensitive to the child’s needs, or non-sensitive and controlling or unresponsive?
- To what degree can a parent reflect on how they are impacting the child, and on the child’s needs?
- What type of subtle and daily parent-child conflict is happening, and how can a parent modify their behavior?
- Is the child’s development at a significant risk from parent-child conflict?
- Is a parent at risk of engaging in emotional harm, neglect, or abuse and to what degree?
- How does the child need the parent to change the way the parent relates to the child, to optimize the child’s neural development?
- Regardless of what the parent knows about parenting, are they able to apply their knowledge to a specific child?
- For parents who have experienced significant adverse childhood experiences, and who have not psychologically addressed or resolved them, how does their experience impact the meaning of their child to themselves?
What information does the Meaning of the Child procedure provide?
The MotC uses attachment science and theory concepts to provide classifications of a parent’s attachment pattern and parent-child (dyadic) attachment relationship dynamics. It focuses on at-risk and struggling relationships. Classifications are organized around the three dimensional and primary attachment classifications of sensitive (A), controlling (B), and unresponsive (C) parenting.
(In traditional attachment theory language, these patterns are often described as secure or balanced (B), insecure-avoidant (A) (distal, dismissive, anxious-avoidant, compulsively caregiving or compliant), and insecure-preoccupied (C) (ambivalent, enmeshed, resistant, coercive, preoccupied, anxious, obsessively angry and/or disarming), and with attachment classifications such as B3, A1, A2, C1, C2, etc.)
The MotC utilizes methodologies from attachment science, such as the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI). While the AAI focuses on the attachment and self-protective strategies of an individual person, the MotC focuses on the relationship of the parent and child, and what issues within that relationship may need some help.
The MotC is gender, culture, and social neutral, so it provides parenting and caregiving insight for mothers, fathers, LGBTQ parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, grandparents, and essential caregivers.
Who would benefit from the training and what are the prerequisites?
There is no prerequisite training required. For professionals who have limited or no prior attachment assessment training, this is an excellent interview to learn as a first foray into attachment science. The training is relatively short and the tool is widely applicable.
It is useful for any professional working with families and parents, including social workers, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, family center workers, children’s services workers, professionals engaged in child protective services work (CPS), family court advisors, guardian ad litem (GAL), adoption support agencies, educators, lawyers, and mediators. It is also useful for anyone interested in learning more about the nature of parent-child interactions on infant neuro-development.
The MotC is being used extensively in U.K. and Irish family court systems since 2010, and in private counseling, mental health, social work, occupational therapy settings, and other infant mental health settings.
How was the MotC interview developed?
The Meaning of the Child interview was developed by Dr. Benedict Grey from the attachment-system work of John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Judith Solomon, Carol George, and Patricia Crittenden, and other professionals working in the fields of human development, developmental psychopathology, and parenting.
The MotC parent-child attachment assessment is based largely on the Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation (DMM-attachment). It incorporates the DMM’s basic premise that people use self-protective attachment strategies to manage daily life dangers, and that those strategies impact information processing in children and adults. It utilizes constructs from the DMM CARE-Index, an attachment science assessment for young children, to examine parent-child interactions. It uses DMM Adult Attachment Interview (DMM-AAI) discourse analysis techniques to examine how the parent speaks about their child.
MotC utilizes other attachment and systems assessments including George and Solomon’s description of the caregiving system to examine if the child has taken on the adult role of being an attachment figure (parentified) or is being an extension of the parent. The interview itself is based in part on established parent interviews, such as the Parent Development Interview. The basis for MotC assumptions goes back to at least the work of Donald Winnicott (1967).
Shortly after the MotC was developed and tested, initial results from the interview coding process showed that the MotC was adept at finding parental reflective functioning, or a parent’s ability to mentalize, so the technique was modified to specifically incorporate elements to assess this parenting capacity. Mentalization concepts are derived primarily from Dr. Peter Fonagy’s work.
Dr. Grey and Dr. Steve Farnfield introduced the interview in Grey B, and Farnfield S, (2017), The Meaning of the Child Interview: A new procedure for assessing and understanding parent-child relationships of ‘at-risk families, Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Vol 22, Issue 2, pp. 204 – 218, DOI: 10.1177/1359104516633495. Available here through Research Gate.
Dr. Grey is the current Programme Convenor (Director) and Senior Lecturer for the Attachment Studies program, Department of Psychology, University of Roehampton, London. He is also co-director of Cambridge Centre for Attachment (www.attachment.services) and has been using the DMM in the family court arena for nearly 20 years. Dr. Farnfield was established the Roehampton attachment studies program. More information about the Meaning of the Child interview is available at www.meaningofthechild.org.
When, where, how
For people interested in taking a training program, the current training schedule for the Meaning of the Child interview is kept up to date at http://www.meaningofthechild.org/training/
The next training is Meaning of the Child attachment training online will begin in September, 2020, through University of Roehampton, London, using Zoom and other online training methodologies.
An additional small-group, online training program, especially focused for professionals experienced with the Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation (DMM) will also be offered in the fall of 2020.
DMM Coffee House #14, on July 7 and 9 (July 10 in Australia and Asia), 2020 will offer an introduction to the Meaning of the Child procedure.
Contact Ben Grey for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note, CSI is based in the United States. The Meaning of the Child interview was developed in the United Kingdom (London and Cambridge mainly) where they utilise, mentalise, organise, and analyse, and where colours and dimensions of behaviour move out from the centre.
This article was written by Mark Baumann, and expresses his opinion. The Conflict Science Institute is not associated with MeaningoftheChild.org, Dr. Benedict Grey, FRI or IASA.