When a baby cries, what is the parent’s immediate response? And how does the baby react to the parent? Does an older child continue to seek comfort in a parent?
Research consistently shows that healthy relationships between parents and children are a foundation for all other relationships throughout one’s life. Moreover, early attachments lay the foundation for social and academic skills. The importance of these relationships and the early attachment should not be underestimated.
Attachment begins with a deep emotional bond between an infant and his/her parents or caregivers. All babies develop some form of attachment to their parents and this attachment forms the basis for other relationships throughout their life span.
Children continue to perceive parents as available across the middle childhood years and, in fact, seek support from the parents – rather than peers – when they feel stressed or uncertain.
Contrary to popular belief, research indicates that adolescents continue to need the parent-child bond. In fact, when youth are asked who they rely on when making important decisions or when facing problems, 63% indicate that they rely on their parents a great deal.
Adolescence is also the time when youth might begin experimenting with alcohol and/ or illicit drugs. Importantly, the bond between the parent and the adolescent plays a significant role in this behaviour. Research shows that hostility between the parent and the adolescent and an absence of warmth in the relationship is associated with increased substance use.
Parent-child relationship is also very important for youth’s mental health. Research has found that youth that perceive lower levels of trust, poorer communication, and greater feelings of alienation are more likely to develop Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as compared to youth that do not experience this. This is true for both boys and girls and for relationships with both mothers and fathers.
The importance of attachment may further be seen in its impact on cognitive development. Children who have a poor relationship with their parents, tend to have lower levels of cognitive skills, as compared to children who have good, healthy relationships with their parents. These difficulties are particularly seen at school, where teachers tend to evaluate children who have lower relationship quality with their parents as having poorer academic performance than the children with a good parent relationship. This may be because social-emotional maturity is needed to successfully adapt to the school environment. Acceptance or rejection in the peer group and academic performance are linked to motivational, self-regulatory, and behavioural patterns, which largely originate from the family dynamics.
Overall, it is clear that the development of an attachment relationship between children and parents is one of the most important aspects of socioemotional and cognitive development for children. In understanding the significance that the parent-child relationship has on the child, parents – if needed – can turn to knowledgeable practitioners to support them in developing a healthy relationship with their children and in raising secure, well-adjusted youth.
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