Don’t be fooled by the fact that babies can’t really talk back to you, sometimes fall asleep when you are hanging out with them, and are oblivious to how demanding they are — those early months and years of loving, responsive contact and positive communication between you and your baby are integral to creating a lasting and resonating emotional bond. And, according to a recent study of 14,000 children in the United States, a whopping 4 out of 10 infants lack secure bonds or attachments with their parents. Further, an alarming 15% of children were shown to actively resist a parent when feeling upset or distressed.
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Bonding, through caring and attentive responses to a baby or child’s basic needs, is crucial — especially for children under the age of three. Secure attachments help children form a strong foundation from which to grow, explore, and learn: about themselves and the world around them. The ramifications of a lack of these bonds could be far-reaching: the study found that children without secure attachments are more likely to be aggressive, defiant, and hyperactive as adults, have language development and cognitive issues before and throughout school years, and are less resilient to factors including poverty, changes within the family, and depression. The study also detailed other unfortunate outcomes related to insecure attachments including higher school dropout rates among those living in poverty, increased levels of childhood obesity, and higher incidences of bullying or being bullied at school.
A child without secure bonds learns to avoid his parents during times when he is upset, either because the parent ignores his needs, makes the situation worse, or is unreliable in his or her response. Boys in particular are greatly affected by these bonds or lack thereof. A male child growing up in poverty is 2 1/2 times more likely to display behavioral problems if he is not securely attached to a parent.
And sadly, since having a parent who is not securely attached themselves is the strongest predictor for a child being insecurely attached, the cycle appears to have the tendency to continue. The study cites possible improvement measures including parenting programs at children’s daycare centers, home visits from government and health officials trained in family support and education programs, and providing services as early as possible especially to high-risk families, including during pregnancy.