The benefits of childhood bonding

Parents could help reduce the likelihood of their children experiencing emotional problems by bonding with them when they are infants. This is the suggestion of new research published in the journal Child Development, which found forming a close relationship with their mother or father can result in a youngster becoming happier and socially well adjusted.

Investigators from the University of Iowa discovered that being attached to their dad can be just as beneficial as being close to their mum for kids, with advantages of these relationships including the development of a young person who is less likely to be troubled or aggressive.

Sanghag Kim, a post-doctoral researcher at the learning institute, noted: "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."

Mr Kim explained this timeframe is critical for a child's social and emotional development, adding at least one parent should be willing to make the investment and forge such a bond.

"There are serious methodological problems associated with establishing that certain conditions are "critical" for children's social and emotional development. The biggest problem is proving that the conditions that obtain in the first two years really are responsible for later development.

Dr Helen Barrett, a member of the British Psychological Society, expressed some caution about these findings:

"Intuitively, it seems to make sense that children who are loved and feel loved will feel better about themselves than those who aren't loved and don't feel loved. But the evidence doesn't support simple one-way causal chains.

"Some children feel unloved whatever their parents do and, conversely, some feel loved whatever their parents do. Some develop good social skills in very challenging personal circumstances while others don't despite having few challenges.

"Also, some parents, no matter how hard they try, can find it difficult to relate to some children. They might be able to forge a bond with help but it isn't always that easy. Some children, whatever the parents do, are troubled and troubling, and parents are often the first people to pick up on and react to the difficulty that the child has in relating to others.  It's almost impossible to prove what might lie at the root of the difficulties, when they started to develop, why, or how.

"If this researcher is claiming to have managed to pinpoint particular experiences within a limited time window and to have unambiguously demonstrated their effects, my question has to be, what has he done that no-one else has managed to do before?"