Parental Secure Base Support Q-Set
Everett Waters, Yuan Gao, Melanie Elliott
SUNY Stony Brook

September 2003

This q-set was developed for research on the importance of secure base support after infancy. It is intended for observations of mothers with their 2.5 - 5-year-old children in outdoor or very large indoor playground settings where the child is free to rage well outside mothers reach and to explore in, on, and around climbing apparata and other interesting locations. There may or may not be other children and parents present.

The number after each item is it's value in a criterion sort describing the"mother who is most able to serve the child as a secure base" in this context. These numbers should NOT be printed on the q-set cards along with the item text.

1. Parent asks child about his/her feelings or experience during play. (4.0)

    Note: Questions are rhetorical - they draw child’s attention to the experience.

    E.g.: Is it hot up there? Are you going fast?

    Low: Doesn’t ask about feelings or experience.


2. Engages in the same activity as the child. (3.5)

      Key: This signals parent’s availability.

      E.g.: Child plays on slide; parent plays on slide.

      Child gets on swing; parent gets on swing

      Low: Supervises but doesn’t join in or engages in own activities.


3. Parent models emotional reaction during child’s play. (5.0)

      Key: Affect regulation. Showing child how to understand experience.

      E.g.: Child coming down slide; parent says "Weeeee" or

      Child climbs; parent says "Up,Up" with rising intonation.

      Low: Regardless supervision level, parent does not model

        emotional reactions.


4. Parent gets into sand, on toys, with child. (3.5)

      Key: Parent is with child - more than just nearby. Signals availability.

      E.g.: Parent sits or hangs on apparatus child is playing on.

      Low: Parent may stay close or supervise closely but stands or sits on a bench, etc.  


    5. If not within 6-8 feet, parent maintains active contact by talking with child during play. (6.5)

      Key: Availability and supervision.

      Note: This is usually questioning or comments about play but may include general conversation. Do not score high if conversation impedes play.

      Mid: If parent is always near child.

       Low: Even if parent watches closely and or speaks intermittently, the child would not have a sense of communication being continuously open.


  6. Parent suggests imaginative or engaging activities. (3.0)

      Key: Enrichment. This behavior helps child prolong enjoyable activity and also helps child get the most out of an activity.

      E.g.: Let’s make the swing go around and around or Take your shoe off and shoot it down the slide - it like a little car.

       Low: Parent may let child exhaust activities on his/her own or may intrude before child has exhausted activity. But no such suggestions.


7. Encourages interaction with other children. (3.0)

       Key: Enrichment. Other children can be the most interesting play apparatus of all.

       Mid: If parent is actively involved with child, i.e., treats outing as "quality time" to be spent one-on-one and child is kept busy. Also if other children seem rough, misbehave, etc.

       Low: Parent ignores opportunities for interesting peer play; parent actively discourages peer contact for no obvious reason other than not wanting to undertake supervision.


8. If child is upset, parent comes close, offers contact, comforts, and helps transition back to play. (7.0)

      Key: Availability, responsiveness, managing attachment exploration balance.

       High: Notices distress, approaches, contact, effective in comforting, redirects child to original or alternative activity.

       Low: Misses or ignores distress. Tries to calm child across a distance. Tries to calm child too quickly. Actively refuses contact.


9. Parent readily stops conversation, reading, etc. to supervise or respond to child. (7.0)

      Key: Availability, responsiveness, acceptance of child’s needs, active supervision.

      Note: There are wide differences in parent child play styles. These are related to age, sex, parent preferences and child competence levels. The bottom line on secure base support is that parent is there when duty calls.

      Note: Do not place item high just because parent puts a book down or pauses a conversation in response to an actual or impending emergency.

      Low: Misses or ignores distress. Does not pay closer attention or approach when child tries something difficult or risky.


10. After prohibiting risky or unsafe behavior, parent accepts further disobedience. (2.0)

      Key:Supervision, anticipation, control increases child’s freedom to explore. If parent doesn’t follow through, child doesn’t learn. If child doesn’t learn parent can’t predict or control his/her behavior. Not training is as bad as not supervising- Leads to restriction.

      Low: After instructing child to stop risky or unsafe behavior, parent responds to any repetition. Approaches. Interrupts activity. Speaks to or disciplines child. Prevents further violation by close supervision or moving child to another activity. (Note: The issue here is the parent’s supervision, not discipline skills per se. Score Low even if discipline seems inept or rough.)


11. Acknowledges child when (s)he comes close. (5.5)

      Key: Signals availability.

       Low: Does not acknowledge child when (s)he comes close.


12. Praises child’s performance. (5.0)

       Key: Informative, available.

      E.g. Parent says "You are very good at xyz" or "You did it, you did it", or "That was very good".

      Low: Not attentive to child’s activities; passive; intrusive rather than`informative.


13. Accepts ordinary (i.e. child not upset) bids for contact. (6.0)

       Key: Signals availability.

      May occur while parent is near child, when parent or child has approached the other because child is upset or in the course of ordinary play.

       Low: Ignores bid; refuses or parries child’s reach or contact; only allows brief contact (briefer than child might have maintained).


 14. Parent ignores bids for attention. (1.0)

      Key: Signals availability.

      E.g.: Mommy watch! Mom ignores or only cursory response w/ no further attention.

       Low: Parent notices bids for attention and responds with

      acknowledgment and sustained attention or approach.


15. Sees in advance that a behavior could be risky or unsafe. (May or may not intervene). (5.5)

      Key: Supervision. A key to good supervision is seeing where a child’s behavior is going - staying ahead of problems. Often a potentially risky or unsafe situation can be made safe before the child’s behavior gets to it

      E.g., Child is climbing on slide. Parent sees that it is difficult or slippery. Parent watches closely, moves closer, helps, or tells child not to climb on the slide. Unsafe/risky behavior never begins

       Low: Doesn’t notice or doesn’t behave differently when child is doing something that could be risky or unsafe.


16. Elaborates - explains rules or instructions. (4.0)

      Key: Facilitates development of self control (which increases possibilities for wider exploration).

       Low: States rules or orders without elaboration.


17. Becomes distressed if child engages in mildly risky or unsafe behavior. (2.0)

       Key: Competence as secure base. Parent’s value as secure base is greater if (s)he is calm enough to serve effectively. It is also useful to signal to the child that (s)he is competent to serve as a secure base. Why should child go to or count on someone who is as upset as he/she is? E.g.:Parent views minor risks or difficulties as emergencies. (Use of discipline for minor matters is sometimes a sign that parent sees risk where there is little or none. Note: Do not place high because of close supervision per se - only if parent seems easily distressed.

       Low: Parent is calm and effective in the face of most difficulties the child encounters during play


 18. Seems interested/amused by child’s play. (6.0)

      Key: Mother is more likely to be an "on guard" secure base and supervisor if she finds the task pleasant.

       Low: Seems disinterested.


19. Repeats or echoes what child says. (3.5)

       Key: Demonstrates sensitivity to signals and close supervision. Signals availability and responsiveness.

       Mid: Child does not say much or child plays out of hearing range but mother is actively supervising.

       Low: Does not repeat what child says.


20. Mother is worrisome. (Gives lots of instructions, stays closer than necessary, etc.) (1.5)

      Key: Anxiety may interfere with sensitivity and quality of supervision. May also make supervision of exploration aversive and thus result in reduced time exploring. Child find adult’s distress distressing and thus be more prone to negative affect during play.

       Note: Worrisome is associated with but does not necessarily imply intrusive. Score intrusive independently.

       Low: Mother is comfortable or in positive mood while serving as supervisor and secure base.


21. Dresses child appropriately for setting and weather. (2.5)

      Key: Good supervision includes anticipation and planfulness.

       Note: Using sun block on bright days is relevant but don’t over score.

       Note: This item is rarely placed <3 or >7.

       Low: Dress is entirely inappropriate (e.g. too confining or too hot; no shoes on hot sand.


 22. Allows child to explore as far away as is prudent. (5.5)

      Key: Enrichment and allowing the child to gain a sense of its own resources.

      Mid: If child begins to explore far from mother she follows along (i.e. allows range but not distance).

      Low: Unnecessarily restricts range of play.


23. Under-estimates child’s competence. Provides unnecessary help. (2.0)

       Key: Child is not able to learn or extend limits of his/her skills. Not enriching, limits child’s self knowledge.

      Low: Appropriate estimate of child’s skills. 


24. Over-estimates child’s competence. Doesn’t provide help when needed. (1.5)

      Key: Child experiences difficulties that he/she can’t resolve. Not enriching, possible negative beliefs.

      Low: Appropriate estimate of child’s skills.


25. Follows or moves to a better location to supervise as child moves from place to place. (7.0)

       Key: Supervision and availability. Enrichment: Allows maximum range of experiences.

      Low: Restricts child to play nearby or allows child to range beyond range of reasonable supervison.


26. Makes sure that child explores a variety of the available toys or activities (including peers). (3.0)

      Key: Enrichment.

       Mid: Child’s play is limited to one or a few activities but they are varied and constructive.

      Low: By the end of the play period, child has underused the available resources.


 27. Asks child to explain what (s)he is doing. (4.0)

      Key: Maintains contact. Signals availability. Enriches by encouraging cognitive elaboration.

      Note: Do not over score on the basis of a single instance. This is a style or strategy.

       Low: Does not engage child about his/her activities even if child provides opportunities.


28. Forces child to do things (s)he is not interested in. (1.0)

      Key: Interfering. Distress minimizes benefits of exploration. Interference may also signal that adult is not responsive to child signals and thus imply unavailability.

       Low: Adult suggests, encourages and/or assists but is not intrusive and does not cause negative affect.


29. Forces child to do things (s)he is afraid to do. (1.0)

      Key: Interfering. Distress minimizes benefits of exploration. Interference may also signal that adult is not responsive to child signals and thus imply unavailability.

       Low: Adult suggests, encourages and/or assists but is not intrusive and does not cause negative affect.


30. Supervises closely and consistently (whether from nearby or at a distance.) (6.5)

      Key: Close supervision.

      Low: Does not supervise closely. Misses signals. Unaware of



31. Supervision (from near or far) is intrusive. (1.5)

      Key: Cooperation vs. interference.

       Mid: If little supervision.

       Low: Supervises actively but without interfering.


32. Misses child’s signals or bids for interaction. (1.0)

      Key: Sensitivity to signals; availability. Unavailability interferes with child efforts at affect regulation. Enrichment.

      Low: Reliably detects child’s signals and bids for interaction.


 33. Misses prohibited, risky, or unsafe behavior. (1.5)

      Key: Supervision

      Mid: If no such behavior occurs.

       Low: Detects prohibited, risky, or unsafe behavior.


34. Expressive during interaction with child. (4.5)

      Key: Enrichment; easy to read is an aspect of availability. Facilitates social referencing.

       Mid: No interaction with child.

       Low: Not expressive during interaction.


35. Helps maintain child’s interest in an activity. (4.0)

      (E.g. attentive, stays close, suggests praises/shares/enjoys)

       Key: Enrichment. Helps child maximize benefit from exploration.

       Low: Little involvement or reaction to child’s activities.


36. Facilitates transitions between activities. (4.0)

      E.g. makes suggestions for new activities and elaborates; talks in advance of slide, swing, etc.

      Key: Signals availability. Enrichment; creates coherent transitions between activities; encourages new activities.

      Low: No facilitation of transitions. Passive or not involved.



37. Ignores (extinguishes) or corrects rude or uncooperative behavior toward her. (2.0)

      Key: Supervision - poor control skills end up limiting control and predictability; mother becomes more restrictive or child engages in risky behavior.

      Low: Works to socialize rude or uncooperative behavior.


 38. Addresses child warmly. (5.5)

      Key: Signals availability.

       Low: Doesn’t address child warmly by name or by affectionate name.


39. Active supervision. (6.5)

      Key: Ahead of problems.

       Low: Passive or little supervision.



40. Notices when child enjoys something and comments or engages in affective sharing. (4.5)

      Key: Maintains contact. Informs child about appropriateness of response.

       Low: Does not notice, comment or engage in affective sharing.


 41. Moves into position ahead of child’s activities (e.g. on apparatus) as appropriate to child’s skill level. (6.5)

      Key: Good supervision entails anticipation.

       Mid: If child’s skill level is such that close supervision is not required.

       Low: Stays in one place or is "behind" rather than ahead of child’s



42. Level of supervision is sensitive to circumstances and context. (5.5)

      (E.g., Extra supervision when first entering play area or when child begins a new activity. More relaxed when she has some information about the context, activity, and child’s competence.)

       Key: Adapts supervision to context.

       Low: Level of supervision (low or high) is insensitive to circumstances and context. Doesn’t relax or increase in response to circumstances.


43. Helps child perform activities that are difficult/challenging for this child. (6.5)

      Key: Enrichment. Child benefits from exploring at the limits. of his/her abilities. Can exploit environment better if you know your skill level. Also less likely get in over your head. E.g.: Stands nearby or holds arm so child can make a difficult climb.

      Mid: Parent is neither supportive nor restrictive. Doesn’t try to arrange for child to succeed at difficult activities. Also Middle if parent is intrusive, pushes child beyond his/her limits. This causes distress and reduces learning and motivation.

      Low: Prevents child from engaging in anything but easy activities. Very restrictive, overly-cautious, passive - lets child fail.


44. Alert to safety issues. (4.5)

      Key: Supervision.

      (E.g., running with lollipop in mouth, sharp objects on ground, throwing sand, etc.)

       Low: Inattentive to safety issues.


45. Patient with child; doesn’t become hurried or intrusive. (6.5)

      Key: Availability.

       (E.g., Avoids being intrusive when child is slow at a difficult activity, wants to continue play or wants mother to play along.)

       Low: Impatient intrusive.


46. Enrichment orientaion. (3.0)

      Key: Enrichment.

       Low: Mere supervision or little supervision.


47. Makes instructions more effective by engaging child. (4.0)

      Key: Effective supervision. If parent is ineffective she ends up being restrictive or child engages in risky behavior.

       Note: Middle if mother gives few or now instructions

       Low: Gives instructions across a distance; doesn’t engage child’s attention, doesn’t signal intention to make instruction stick.


48. Responds harshly to risky or unsafe behavior the first time it occurs. (1.0)

      Key: Harsh response is distressing rather than informative. May not stop behavior. Likely to stop play and exploration. May reduce child’s likelihood of showing or going to parent during exploration.

      E.g,. Parent sees child throw sand or a stone and approaches, raises voice, angry face, threatens and/or slaps on hand or picks child up harshly and carries away from scene of the crime.

      Low: Speaks calmly across a distance, approaches and distracts, or approaches, stops behavior and tells child not to dothis or that there will be a sanction if child repeats the behavior. (Whether parent follows through if child repeats the behavior is not the issue here; See Item # xxx.


49. Seems knowledgable/insightful about children’s motivation and behavior. (5.0)

      Key: General competence. (E.g., Comfortable, confident, works well with child. Few difficult interactions or surprises.)

      Note: Interactions and responses to children other than her own are relevant.

      Low: May be well meaning and or attentive but doesn’t seem

      knowledgable about children’s motivation and behavior.


Quality and Consistency of Adult's Secure Base Support
During 2.5 - 5 Year-olds' Free Play

Everett Waters & Melanie Elliott

Pile 7: 25, 39, 18, 9, 41, 22 , 8
Pile 6: 5, 43, 45, 13, 30, 38, 3
Pile 5: 40, 42, 11, 1, 49, 12, 15
Pile 4: 2, 4, 34, 27, 19, 47, 16
Pile 3: 44, 35, 6, 36, 26, 21, 7
Pile 2: 37, 46, 24, 23, 17, 33, 10
Pile 1: 20, 32, 48, 29, 31, 28, 14


Measurement Menu