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The “Freaky Friday” by Mark Waters

Relationships with parents, their attachment, care and love significantly affect the child’s entire life. This paper analyzes the relationship between fictional parent and child from the Freaky Friday film directed by Mark Waters (2003). The movie’s plot centered around the relationship between their mother, Tess Coleman, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, and her teenage daughter Anna Coleman, presented by Lindsay Lohan. Despite substantial disagreements and parental behavior, which usually has negative consequences for children, at the beginning of the film, they gradually solve their problems and establish good relations.

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Several key points can be highlighted in the film’s plot and the relationship between Tess Coleman and Anna Coleman to understand these characters and their actions better. Tess, a therapist by profession, is a widow who is about to get married again. Anna does not accept her mother’s fiancé, as she believes that Tess is trying to replace her father. As a result of tense relations, Tess considers Anna’s problems and hobbies as a rebellion and does not respond to them with sufficient seriousness. According to the plot, after a magical ritual, the mother and daughter switch their bodies and are forced to live the day in this unusual way (Waters, 2003). Later, in the movie’s final, they understand each other better and solve their conflicts.

The bonds between mother and child begin to form immediately after birth; in particular, attachment is established. John Bowlby, a scientist who developed the concept of attachment, described through it the connection established between infants and their caregivers (Fearon & Roisman, 2017). It depends on how sensitive the guardians are to the child’s needs and on their responsiveness to these needs. Types of attachment include such as secure, avoidant, disorganized, and ambivalent. The attachment type formed in an infant with a parent affects the entire subsequent life of the child, particularly the relationship with caregivers. For example, according to Koehn and Kerns (2018), with secure attachment, both the caregiver and the child are better able to be involved in an open discussion with each other in the future. Based on monitoring the behavior of a teenager and a parent, one can assume what type of attachment they have developed.

In the plot, the relationship between Anna and Tess is quite complex and tense, and it is difficult for them to understand each other. Tess does not support her daughter’s autonomy; for example, she removes the door of her room. According to a study by Koehn and Kerns (2018), such parent behavior is more associated with avoidant attachment. She also imposes a ban on participating in an important concert for Anna using harsh control.

At the same time, Anna has good social skills, friends, and hobbies, is moderately open, and strives to cope with her problems. Moreover, in a dangerous situation, an earthquake, she is looking for help from her mother and is worried about Tess’s safety. This behavior suggests an early secure attachment established between caregiver and daughter (Fearon & Roisman, 2017). The contradiction of the two manifested types can be explained by the peculiarities of the attachment phenomenon itself. In particular, according to a study by Fearon and Roisman (2017), attachment is not stable and can change. Thus, it can be assumed that in childhood Anna and Tess have established secure attachment, but due to the death of Anna’s father, they became detached, and attachment changed to an avoidant type.

Tess shows a specific parental style in the film – authoritarian. This style is characterized by two dimensions – low responsiveness and high demandingness (Kuppens & Ceulemans, 2019). She sets many rules and restrictions – takes the door from her daughter’s room, turns off power during Anna’s musical group rehearsal, and demonstrates other similar manifestations. Moreover, she does not listen to Anna’s feelings and does not believe the seriousness of her problems. For example, the daughter tells Tess that the English teacher is unfairly picky with her, and a childhood friend became an unpleasant person (Waters, 2003). The mother ignores Anna’s feelings, but everything is confirmed while she is in her daughter’s body (Waters, 2003). Nevertheless, the development of the plot involves changes in the behavior of both mother and daughter, and therefore reconciliation can push Tess to an authoritative style. This style is more likely since it is hard to refuse to establish rules, but Tess may better listen to her daughter.

Tess’s parental style, prevailing in the film’s plot, influences which approach she chooses – punishment or reinforcement. For example, her frequent method is negative punishment, which involves removing a pleasant incentive to prevent unwanted behavior (“Reinforcement vs punishment,” 2021). In the film, prohibiting rehearsals and performances, as well as taking the door, the mother uses negative punishment to deter her daughter from undesired behavior. However, when mutual understanding establishes between Anna and Tess, the mother uses other methods, in particular positive reinforcement. This approach involves adding a pleasant incentive to consolidate the desired behavior (“Reinforcement vs punishment,” 2021). For example, Tess promises to respect Anna’s musical group and allows her to play at her wedding to preserve their new trusting relationship.

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The plot of the film is tied to the conflict relations between Tess and Anna. The mother’s detachment, which possibly arises due to the death of her husband, negatively affects their daughter. Using an authoritarian parental style, Tess does not explain her demands, does not listen to what her daughter says, and does not take into account her interests. As a result, Anna begins to manifest rebellious behavior and also keeps her distance from her mother. Without feeling understanding and acceptance from Tess, Anna does not respect her mother’s interests too. For example, she does not want to understand the importance of pre-wedding dinner, family unity, and reconciliation with her mother’s fiancé. In this way, the film raises an important topic of family conflicts and illustrates how understanding the other side contributes to their resolution.

Thus, this paper analyzes the relationship between mother and daughter presented in the comedy film Freaky Friday. In the plot, the relationship between Anna and Tess is tense. They cannot come to a consensus and understand each other. The authoritarian style of parental activities and the approaches that Tess uses are similar to the behavior characteristic of avoidant attachment. However, there are also signs of a previously established secure attachment in their relationship. It may be changed due to the family tragedy – the death of Anna’s father. Although Anna is already a teenager, tense relations negatively affected her. She began to show rebellion and mimic her mother’s ignorance of other people’s interests. However, by the end of the movie, mother and daughter overcome the crisis and change their behavior to a more beneficial one.


Fearon, R. P., & Roisman, G. I. (2017). Attachment theory: progress and future directions. Current Opinion in Psychology, 15, 131-136.

Koehn, A. J., & Kerns, K. A. (2018). Parent–child attachment: Meta-analysis of associations with parenting behaviors in middle childhood and adolescence. Attachment & Human Development, 20(4), 378-405.

Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans, E. (2019). Parenting styles: A closer look at a well-known concept. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(1), 168-181.

Reinforcement vs punishment psychology. (2021). Parenting for Brain.

Waters, M. (2003). Freaky Friday [Film]. Buena Vista Pictures.

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