Research by the Sutton Trust finds that children who fail to develop strong emotional bonds with their parents before the age of three are more likely to be badly behaved and struggle at school.
Poor parenting is fuelling a rise in the number of young children who grow up with behaviour and educational problems, according to research.
Figures show as many as four-in-10 infants fail to properly bond with their mothers and fathers by the age of three – storing up a series of social problems in later life.
The study, commissioned by the Sutton Trust, found that strong emotional bonds between parents and children were vital to ensure youngsters develop properly in the first few years.
Parents need to reassure sons and daughters with smiles and soothing tones while acknowledging their unhappiness when they get upset to lay the foundations of children’s social skills.
But the report – carried out by academics from British and US universities – found that 40 per cent of children failed to develop these bonds because of poor parenting, increasing the likelihood of being badly behaved and underachieving at school.
Researchers warned that the issues applied to “families from all social classes”, adding that boys’ behaviour was more easily affected than girls’ by poor parenting.
The Sutton Trust, which campaigns for better levels of social mobility, recommended that state-run children’s centres should offer mothers and fathers parenting classes to give them tips on how to bond with their children.
Health workers who visit parents shortly after the birth of children should also offer advice about attachment, it was claimed.
The disclosure will add to growing concerns over the prevalence of poor parenting skills in large numbers of British families.
It follows claims last year from Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, that parents who no longer “take responsibility” for teaching their children right from wrong were at the root of Britain’s biggest problems.
Conor Ryan, director of research at the Sutton Trust said there was a “clear link” between good parenting and children’s “education, behaviour and future employment”.
“The educational divide emerges early in life, with a 19 month school readiness gap between the most and least advantaged children by the age of five,” he said.
“This report clearly identifies the fundamental role secure attachment could have in narrowing that school readiness gap and improving children’s life chances.
“More support from health visitors, children’s centres and local authorities in helping parents improve how they bond with young children could play a role in narrowing the education gap.”
Academics from Bristol University and Princeton and Columbia universities in the US reviewed international research papers to examine the long-term effects on young children of failing to develop strong emotional bonds with parents.
It quoted one study from the US that found 40 per cent of children failed to develop “secure attachments”. This figure was consistent with other European studies, it was claimed.
These children are split into two groups. Around 25 per cent failed to bond with parents because mothers and fathers regularly ignored their emotional needs, while another 15 per cent learnt to resist parents because they made them more upset or responded in an unpredictable way.
The study set out the characteristics of parents who successfully bond with their children. This includes lovingly holding a baby, reassuring them with smiles and soothing tones and acknowledging them when they become unhappy with reassuring facial expressions.
Children without secure bonds were more likely to display behaviour problems, including aggression, defiance and hyperactivity when they get older, the study found.
These pupils often have higher levels of poor language development and become unable to cope with poverty, family instability, parental stress and depression in later life.
They are also more likely to become obese in their adolescence, drop out of education and work at an early age and have difficulty forming social ties with their peers and teachers, researchers revealed.
Jane Waldfogel, professor of social work at Columbia University and a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, said: “Parents are an important influence on young children’s development and their chances in life.
“Mothers and fathers influence development through the resources they invest in their children, and the home learning environment they offer.
“But the emotional bonds they forge with their children also matter. A secure bond or attachment to the parent helps the child manage their behaviour and learn.”
Davina Ludlow, director of daynurseries.co.uk, an online nursery guide, said: “Children’s centres are the perfect place to promote the importance of bonding and attachment from a very young age, by taking advantage of their close relationship with parents. We welcome these recommendations.
“Yet while the report highlights the vital role of children’s centres and nurseries, the swathe of cuts in funding are forcing many to close.
“This should be a wake-up call for Government – funding for nurseries and children’s centres must be ring-fenced.”
Source: The Telegraph