Last Updated 06 Jul 2020

Case study on emotional development

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 Angela, is a 17 year old white mother to 11 months old Adam. She lives with Adam at her mother’s house in a small rented house in a semi rural community in the Midwest. Her mother, Sarah is a single mother and has a son David who is 13years. Sarah works as a food server in a local restaurant. Angela’s father abandoned them when Angela was 7 years old. Sarah who sees him as incapable and uninterested in pursuing his responsibility does not allow Wayne, Angela’s boyfriend and Adam’s father in the house.

            Angela dropped out of high school when she was 7 months pregnant. Angela is depressed about caring for her baby. Schoolwork and pregnancy is overwhelming for her. She has been trying to be a good mother to her son by performing the caretaking responsibilities by all by herself. Despite her efforts, Adam does not seem to appreciate giving her mixed feelings. He cries frequently for no apparent reason, even when he is neither wet nor hungry. Angela resents the restrictions that Adam has now placed on her. At times, she handles the baby roughly and she finds Adams behavior frustrating. Adam does seem to respond to her smiles and fails to pay attention when she tries to interact with him. At these times, she raises her voice and forces him to look at her with her hands. She feels that she is not a good mother to Adam.

            Angela and her mother Sarah have a strained relationship and she feels that her mother is not interested in helping her. She always idealizes her father and blames her mother’s frequent outburst for their fathers leaving them. Sarah on the other hand believes that Angela is not working hard enough to help herself. Although she could get access to child-based care services she decided not to go back to school. Sarah expected that Angela would graduate and find a steady job and help the family financially. Instead, Angela has become a burden to her financially as she has an added role of taking care of another child.

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            Sarah is hurt and disappointed that Angela does not appreciate the sacrifices she has made for her over the years. On the other hand, Angela believes that her mother never really cared about her. Sarah is not happy, as Angela has begun seeing Wayne again without her permission. She warns her that should she get pregnant again, she would have to move out of her house.

  The quality of attachment between Angela and Adam is a mixed-up or messy. Adam does not seem to feel secure even when his mother, the caregiver is near him. Angela is frustrated and perceives Adam as difficult and unrealistic to deal with. She has difficulties dealing with her emotional state. She fails in being there for Adam emotionally. Teenage mothers tend to be less sensitive to their infants cues and are generally less optimal caregivers. Her lack of understanding of Adam’s development abilities could be the cause of their strained relationship. Adam does not seem to be secure before his mother despite the fact that his mother provides for his needs. There is evidence that the mother-child relationship between them has been impaired. Probably due to her young age, Angela is not emotionally ready to be a good mother to Adam. Angela’s unresolved attachment with her mother seems to be transferred to his son Adam. She is undergoing depressive moments. Adam could be feeling insecure due to her mother’s behavior of displaying her anger to him.

Angela’s quality of attachment with her mother, Sarah is also distant. She too, is not secure when around her mother. She feels that her mother does not care about her at all. Research has shown that teenagers who have strong emotional attachment and girls who live with their fathers are unlikely to be sexually active at an early age and consequently not exposed to teenage pregnancies. (Quinlan J, 2003). This could have been the reason for her pregnancy. Angela does not feel valued, understood or accepted and thinks that her mother is not caring. She fails to develop her self-esteem and feels that she is not good enough for Adam.

Angela could have developed the insecure attachment after her father left them. Probably their financial status was affected by his leaving them. On the other hand, Sarah does not understand why Angela fails to appreciate her working hard to single handedly offer her education. Her dreams about her saving their plight are diminished. Probably, her lost expectation or dreams have attributed to her ‘harsh treatment’ on Angela. Adam seems to be confused and his communication or interaction with Angela is cold and insensitive. His constant cries could be attributed to his psychological anxiety.

Angela and Sarah have an unresolved or disorganized attachment where they both blame each other for past happenings. Sarah may not have resolved her separation that left her as a single mother thus becoming emotionally unstable. Angela’s problems could be due to her immaturity as she is still a child. Adam is at risk for developmental problems. Research has shown that children’s cognitive outcomes are related to concurrent measures of their parents especially their mothers responsiveness. The strained parent-child relationship between Angela and Adam will lay groundwork for non-optimal development for Adam. He is likely to display anger and non-compliant behavior. His linguistic development especially at school age is likely to be showed down. (Guttmann-Steinmetz S, Crowell A, 2006) Adam risks acquiring behavioral and emotional problems due to the contribution of the risks in the family where his mother and grandmother are constantly at war. (Carlson et al, 2003). Again his mother is not stable emotionally.

Angela’s sharing the same residence with her mother creates strains and conflicts. The strained relationship between Sarah and Angela ensures that Angela lacks the adequate mentorship for parenting thus affecting Adams development. Hindering Wayne from involvement in Adam’s growth will affect his development. Angela’s emotional instability and behavioral difficulties will interfere with her ability to read and understand Adam’s cues. He is likely to show non-compliant and disruptive behavior.

The model of intergenerational transmission of attachment is the process where parents’ mental representation of past attachment experiences influences their parenting behavior and the quality of their children’s attachment to them. The ecological context plays a facilitating or inhibiting role in developing attachments. (Zeng-yin C and Howard K, 2001). In this case, past relationship experiences are carried forward and re-enacted in the present relationships. Angela has insecure attachment with Sarah and Angela has insecure attachment with Adam. Earlier generation, Angela’s, psychologically influences parenting attitudes of the next generation, Adam’s. Their co-residence could be a factor perpetuating the intergenerational continuity. Linage effects ensure the transmission of values and behavior. The vital aspect of modeling is lacking in this case and this affects Angela’s parenting. She seems to have had parental rejection, which destabilizes her emotionally affecting her parenthood. Angela does not seem to acquire a high degree of responsiveness from Sarah and this is transferred to Adam who is not responsive to Angela.

To help the members of this family, there is need to work on their physiological well being. Intensive therapeutic intervention can help solve Angela’s mental needs. (Marinus et al, 1995). This will help build a secure and stable relationship between her and Adam. Sarah needs guidance so that she provides supportive assistance to Angela. She needs to be a model figure and help Angela in bringing up Adam. First, she has to resolve their differences with Angela so that they can communicate effectively instead of constantly arguing. (McDonough C, 2000). She should not shun Wayne, as Adam needs him for his emotional growth. Sarah and Angela need mental health interventions to resolve the past issues and gracefully more forward.  Angela will also need to undertake developmental guidance and parenting education so that she can be a more effective mother to Adam. Education is crucial for Angela and should complete her education while ensuring that Adam grows up well. Financial related stress can be reduced when she gets a good job in graduating.


Feeney A. 2002. Early parenting and parental attachment: links with offspring's attachment and perceptions of social support. Journal of Family Studies v.8.

Quinlan J. 2003. Father absence, parental care, and female reproductive development. Evolution and Human Behavior. P 376-390.

Marinus I, Femmie J, Marja C. 1995. Breaking the Intergenerational Cycle of Insecure Attachment. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Volume 36 Issue 2 .Page 225-248.

Zeng-yin C and Howard K. 2001. Intergenerational Transmission of Constructive Parenting. Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 63, No. 1. P. 17-31.

McDonough C. 2000. Interaction Guidance: An Approach for Difficult to Engage Families. In C. H. Zeanah (Ed.). Handbook of Infant Mental Health. New York: Guilford Press.

Guttmann-Steinmetz S, Crowell A. 2006. Attachment and externalizing disorders. A developmental psychopathology perspective. Child Adolescent Psychiatry.

Carlson A, Megan S, and Alan S. 2003. Implications of Attachment Theory and Research for Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics. Journal of Developmental ; Behavioral Pediatrics 24.

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