New research from the University of Reading says that children, especially boys, who have insecure attachments to their mothers in the early years have more behaviour problems later in childhood.
The analysis by Dr Pasco Fearon, from the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, looked at 69 studies involving almost 6,000 children aged 12 and younger.
The quality of the relationship between children and their parents is important to children's development, but past research on the link between attachment and development has been inconsistent. The volume, range and diversity of earlier studies made it difficult to get a clear picture. However this new analysis has been able to pull together evidence from past research to answer a number of scientific questions around attachment.
According to attachment theory, children with secure attachments expect and receive support and comfort from their care givers. In contrast, children with insecure attachments have requests discouraged, rejected, or responded to inconsistently, which is thought to make them vulnerable to developing behavioural problems.
The new research sought to clarify the extent to which bonds between children and their mums early in life affect children's later behavioural problems, such as aggression or hostility. The studies included in the review used a range of methods for assessing children's behaviour problems, including parent and teacher questionnaires and direct observations.
Dr Fearon said: "The central question we posed was whether attachment insecurity was associated with behaviour problems across all the studies conducted to date. The results showed quite clearly that the answer to this question is a firm yes.
"More specifically, our analysis showed that children with insecure attachments to their mothers, particularly boys, had significantly more behavioural problems, even when the behavioural problems were measured years later."
The study also recommends the need for treatment studies focusing on attachment and for more research on the significance of attachment between children and their fathers.
The study was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.
- Fearon, RP et al. The Significance of Insecure Attachment and Disorganization in the Development of Children’s Externalizing Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Study. Child Development, 2010; 81 (2): 435 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01405.x
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