The findings of this study should be interpreted in the light of several limitations. This is the first brief review and preliminary meta-analysis that integrates studies on the relation between parental empathy and attachment, and the results provide leads for future research. Notably, it is not uncommon to conduct a metaanalysis on a small sample size if the scientific field is in need of knowledge integration in a particular subject area (see Rodenburg, Benjamin, De Roos, & Meijer, 2009). For instance, Letourneau et al. (2015), recently published a brief (narrative) review and meta-analysis of only seven trials examining the effects of interventions targeting maternal sensitivity and reflective function on secure child-mother attachment relationships, showing a positive mean overall effect. Nevertheless, the limited number of studies and effect sizes implies that this meta-analysis was underpowered to test within and between study heterogeneity of effect sizes, and subsequently conduct continuous and categorical moderator analyses with sufficient statistical power (Cafri, Kromrey, & Brannick, 2010). We therefore could not compare mean effect sizes in different subgroups in a reliable way (Rubio-Aparicio, Sanchez-Meca, Lopez-Lopez, Botella, & Marin-Martinez, 2017), which sets limits to possibilities for generalisation of our study findings. Moreover, the number of studies and effect sizes were insufficient to conduct reliable publication bias analyses.
In addition, all five studies were cross-sectional, which might inflate the association between parental empathy and child attachment to the extent that parental empathy is assessed as a state that might be affected by the child's attachment. All samples of the included studies were Western (i.e. three North-American samples, one Western-European, and one Israeli sample), which implies that the results of this meta-analysis camiot be generalised to non-Western populations. Further, the samples of the studies consisted of 90-100% mothers. This suggests that the results camiot be generalised to (Western) fathers. Notably, research by Bogels and Phares (2008) indicates that data concerning fathers' involvement in child-rearing is often missing, and such missing data must be regarded as "systematic”.
This brief review showed a significant positive relation between parents' empathy and the child’s attachment security. Being able to get a feeling of what your child feels might be a very strong driver to respond to his or her attachment needs.
Given the limited number of studies on the relationship between parental empathy
and child attachment, we stress the need for more research in this area.
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