Written by Heather Marcoux

We all want to give our kids a solid foundation for educational success. That’s why we read to them, to give them the language and literacy skills that will help them down the line. But it turns out reading isn’t all the only academic benefit little kids pick up from storytime snuggles: Reassurance in toddlerhood paves the way for better academic performance in their teen years.

According to a new study published in Psychological Science, children who have solid attachments to their primary caregiver at a young age develop better self-control, and that leads to better performance in school a decade later.

This isn’t about attachment parenting or co-sleeping or baby-wearing. The study defines “sufficient attachment” as a parent responding to a distressed child in sensitive, loving and reassuring ways, instead of ignoring or minimizing their problem. A kid who knows they’re going to get reassurance when expressing a negative emotion is considered securely attached to mom.

“Our work is the first to show that early mother-child attachment security triggers a meaningful cascade that significantly explains academic achievement over a decade later through its influence on effortful control,” the study’s authors wrote.

Basically, when parents consistently responded to the distress of very young kids (a group of 9-month olds and another of 2-3 year old toddlers) with kindness, they form a secure attachment with the parent, and a chain reaction of positive benefits was set off.

The researchers found the kids with the secure attachments did well in the next part of the study, which measured their “effortful control.” These children were able to resist the temptation to eat the Goldfish crackers in front of them until given the okay (which anyone with a toddler knows is very difficult, Goldfish are everything).

A decade later, these kids were the ones doing better on standardized tests as tweens and teens, and it all started with kind and gentle interactions with their primary caregiver.
According to the researchers, the takeaway for parents is this: Being better attached leads to better academic outcomes, so parents may want to make bonding a goal during infancy and toddlerhood.

A toddler whose distress is met with kindness may become the teen who brings home an A+.


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