When infants develop a close bond with at least one parent, they experience fewer emotional and behavioral problems in childhood, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Iowa found that infants who have a close, intimate relationship with a parent are less likely to be troubled, aggressive or experience other emotional and behavioral problems when they reach school age.
The researchers note that bonding with just one parent gives the child the same benefits of stable emotions and behavior — and that it doesn’t matter if the child bonds with the mother or the father to reap those benefits.
“There is a really important period when a mother or a father should form a secure relationship with their child, and that is during the first two years of life.
“That period appears to be critical to the child’s social and emotional development,” said Sanghag Kim, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at the university, who collaborated with psychology professor Grazyna Kochanska on the study. “At least one parent should make that investment.”
The researchers assessed the relationships between parents and 102 infants who were 15 months old, then followed up with 86 of them when they reached age 8. Separate surveys of the parents and the child were taken at that time. The researchers also questioned teachers about the children, on a variety of issues, such as whether the children expressed worry, sadness, or aggression. They also asked whether the children were disobedient.
According to the researchers, the children’s reports and their teachers’ impressions were similar, yet they differed — sometimes greatly — from the parents’ evaluations.
“Parents and teachers have different perspectives,” Kim said. “They observe children in different contexts and circumstances. That is why we collected data from many informants who know the child.”
The researchers said they were surprised to discover that infants who felt attached to both parents did not enjoy additional mental and emotional advantages into childhood, compared to those who had been close to one parent.
The best explanation for that is that a secure bond with at least one primary caregiver may be enough to meet the child’s need for security, while providing a solid foundation for development, the researchers hypothesize.
One of the questions that needs further study, according to the researchers, is whether day-care providers can serve as effective caregivers, providing emotional support for infants, or whether they interfere with an infant’s ability to bond with the parents.
The National Institutes of Health funded the study, which was published in the journal Child Development.
Source: The University of Iowa