Attachment and Academic Achievement

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The lead article in the December 2008 issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics caught my attention. The article reported a study (Keller 2008) in which the investigators looked at the sleep behavior of 166 third graders as it related to the quality of their attachment to parents and their math achievement. They found that children who were insecurely attached to parents had significantly lower quantity and less efficient sleep patterns than did children who were securely attached. The insecurely attached children also had significantly lower math scores than did the securely attached. To the investigators, these findings suggested that poor attachment affected math achievement indirectly through its impact upon children’s sleep patterns.

I found these results particularly interesting given the current onslaught of programs to teach infants everything from math to computers. What bothers me most about these programs is its effect upon the attachment to parents. In all of these programs there are right and wrong answers. Parents reward, or withhold rewards, depending upon the infant’s response. Infants have little understanding of right and wrong. What they do understand is that parental love is conditional on doing something or other. Yet to be securely attached, infants need unconditional love and attention. In their desire to give their infants an intellectual head start these “early advantage” parents may in fact be doing just the opposite. What the study suggests is that secure attachment is probably more beneficial to academic achievement than is attempting to teach infants and young children tool skills.

This study underscores the point that we are trying to make with Just Ask Baby. Our emphasis is on providing infants and young children with the kind of parenting that ensures secure attachment and a sense of trust that the world is a safe and welcoming place. In the long run, that appears to be the best way to prepare infants and children for later academic achievement.

By Professor David Elkind


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