More Reasons to Nuzzle Your Cute Baby

Child bonding with a parent appears linked to fewer behavior problems later on

(RxWiki News) Who is the most important parent for a child to bond with? Mom? Or Dad? The answer, it seems, is either one or both.

A recent study found that the bond between a child and his or her parent makes a difference in the child's behavior later on.

Whether the child bonds to mom or dad, however, does not seem to make a difference — as long as they bond to one of them.

"Bond with your child."

The study, conducted by University of Iowa psychology professor Grazyna Kochanska and Sanghag Kim, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Iowa, analyzed behavioral differences among children based on how well they bonded to their parents.

Their research involved studying the relationships between 102 normally developing babies, aged 15 months, and both their parents in two-parent homes.

The children were from a variety of household incomes, races/ethnicities and parent education levels, though 90 percent of the children were white.

The researchers then followed up with 86 of the children at ages 6 and 8 to gather information on the kids' behaviors and emotions. They used surveys from the parents and the children themselves at age 8 and from the children's teachers at age 6.

When the children were 15 months old, they were observed during two 1.5-hour sessions, one with each parent.

During these sessions, about two to three weeks apart, the children were observed in a psychological test scenario called the "Strange Situation."

It involves having the parent and child in a room for a period of time during which the parent and other strangers come and go. The child's behavior and responses are assessed each time the parent leaves or returns.

Of the original group, 56 children were rated as "secure" with their mothers, and 45 were rated as "insecure" with their mothers. A total of 66 children were rated secure with their fathers and 34 were insecure with dad.

Overall, 40 children were secure with both parents, 18 were insecure with both and 42 were secure with one but not the other. When assessed at age 8, 33 of the children secure with both parents, 17 of the insecure kids and 35 of the mixed-security kids were included.

The researchers found that children insecure with both parents in the Strange Situation had more overall behavioral difficulties — reported by the parents, the teachers and the children themselves — than children who had been secure with at least one parent.

"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," Kim said in a release about the study. " That period appears to be critical to the child's social and emotional development."

The children who had been secure with both parents had similar behavior assessments to those secure with one parent.

Therefore, bonding with one parent was enough for the children to have the lower rate of problem behaviors.

"Some people think the father is not good enough to be the primary caregiver," said Kim. "Our data show otherwise."

The study could not establish that the parent-child bond at 15 months was the cause of having or not having problem behaviors.

The link between the two is an association, and more research would need to establish what the relationship is.

The study was published September 24 in the journal Child Development. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Information regarding possible disclosures was unavailable.

Review Date: 
October 22, 2012