MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 21-Mar-14 14:25:13

Guest post: "Parents who are struggling to bond with their babies need more help"

A strong bond between babies and their carers is widely acknowledged to positively influence their life chances - and new research from the Sutton Trust suggests the impact of a secure early attachment is even greater for children from disadvantaged families.

Here Sophie Moullin, co-author of the report, argues that much more could be done to support poorer families in forming strong bonds in the early years - and that doing so could help to create a more equal society.

Sophie Moullin

Co-author of the Sutton Trust's 'Baby Bonds' report

Posted on: Fri 21-Mar-14 14:25:13

(9 comments )

Lead photo

A secure bond with a parent can help children overcome other disadvantages

It’s an imaginary parent that can be sensitive and responsive to their baby 24/7. All new parents get exhausted and frustrated at times. But a significant minority of mums and dads consistently struggle to meet their baby’s needs - to tune into their signals, respond to their cries, and be a reliable source of comfort. As a result, about four in ten young children don’t bond fully with a parent, developing what psychologists call an insecure attachment.

Without mums or dads able to provide warm, consistent parenting, children often lack the secure base from which they best explore, learn, relate to others, and flourish. Insecure attachment has been linked to some of the key issues that thwart children from thriving, from poorer language development before school through to behavioural problems at school.

It’s an issue which affects families from all walks of life. It’s not only the poorest or most troubled families that struggle to provide the right early parenting - over one in three children in high-income families don’t have a secure attachment. That’s why we endorse maternity and paternity leave, and universal income and work-family supports that help take pressures off young families. We think helping parents parent should be a much bigger focus of antenatal care, health visiting and children’s centres.

But we need to do more – much more – for poorer families who are struggling; for parents difficulties forming a secure bond are compounded by poverty, poor housing, lack of access to services.

The truth is that being a parent is often hard, but poverty makes it even harder. If parents are insecure, money-wise or otherwise, it is really hard to provide the responsive parenting needed for babies and toddlers to feel secure. Parents with poor mental health, and with disabled children experience additional stresses. In families facing problems on multiple fronts, as many as two thirds of children may be insecurely attached.

Bonding in the first years isn't make-or-break for kids. But having good parenting and a secure bond from the start does seem to protect children to some extent from the damage wrought of disadvantage, from poverty to family instability. Boys growing up in poverty are two and a half times less likely to display behaviour problems at school if they formed secure attachments with parents in their early years.


The good news is we know services can better support new parents. We at the Sutton Trust recommend that local authorities and children’s centres offer more evidence-based, good quality programmes – enhanced home visiting, and parenting support – to more disadvantaged families from the very start. Many of these programmes such as PEEP's Reflective Parenting programme, and OXPIP offered in some areas in the UK, through Children Centres, have shown they can make a real difference to parents’ confidence and capabilities, and children’s development. In general, the most effective services start early with parents – often in pregnancy, involve dads, and focus on practical ways the parents can become the parents they want to be.

Bonding in the first years isn’t make-or-break for kids. But having good parenting and a secure bond from the start does seem to protect children to some extent from the damage wrought of disadvantage, from poverty to family instability. Boys growing up in poverty are two and a half times less likely to display behaviour problems at school if they formed secure attachments with parents in their early years. Research also finds that children who grow up in poverty but are securely attached get on better with friends and teachers at school, are less likely to be disruptive and get in trouble at school, and even to drop-out.

As parenting and attachment is linked to how children develop and get on in school, we think that policies that support parents from the start would help equalise children’s chances in life. When children from lower-income families start school they can be a year and a half behind children from higher-income families. And when in school, children from poorer families are more likely to have behaviour problems than children from middle income families. This gap is bigger in Britain than in Australia, Canada or America. Equal opportunity this is not. High-quality childcare is one part of the answer but so must be, particularly for those with under threes, support with parenting at home.

Trends in parenting ‘techniques’ come and go. Advice for new parents is two-a-penny. But the idea of attachment, an old idea, endures. It’s not because of some conspiracy to keep mums at home and make them feel guilty. In fact, our research finds that dads can be important attachment figures – and that mums working is not the issue. The idea of attachment endures because of the mounting scientific research showing just how important sensitive, responsive parenting is in laying a foundation for children. And also perhaps, because it does speaks to something which for many parents is simple and instinctive: the importance for children of affection and connection, and, for all the stresses and lack of sleep, of ‘falling in love’ with your baby.

By Sophie Moullin

Twitter: @suttontrust

LadyInDisguise Fri 21-Mar-14 15:14:43

Why is bonding only a poor family issue?
What about mums with bad PND for example?

And seriously, is not bonding with your child a parenting issue that needs to be dealt with with.., parenting classes?
The issue us so much more complex than that sad

Shellywelly1973 Fri 21-Mar-14 17:44:37

Bonding isn't a socioeconomic/ poverty or cultural issue.

It's a personal issue which can vary from child to child within the same setting.

I strongly agree parents of disabled children need more support. I've recieved no state help for my Ds9 apart from DLA.

TheFabulousIdiot Fri 21-Mar-14 18:58:09

Surely any of those four in ten who don't bond are in families that are just downright abusive rather than just poor? You only have to look at the way some parents behave towards their kids in public (heaven knows what they must be like in private) to see how damaging they are being to their children.

joanofarchitrave Fri 21-Mar-14 19:39:28

I find it incredibly hard to believe that 40% of all children don't have a secure bond with a parent. Forty per cent? Really? Reading the appendix to the report, it says the number could in fact be up to 50%. If something is true for half of all children, does it start to become more like a norm? Are you asking for something that is actually possible?

I struggled to bond with my first due to a traumatic birth. Glad to know some people think I'm simply abusive. hmm

GoodnessIsThatTheTime Fri 21-Mar-14 22:23:23

Snap. I had a traumatic birth and was separated whilst I was in intensive care - woke up and baby was in a different hospital.

First few months were so very difficult. Husband worked away and I really could have done with support. I told hv etv.

I knew from reading it could happen, made myself bf etc but was so very exhausted, I'll, and dealing with other child it was tough.

luckily its okay now but I really feel I missed our on those first months as well.

JuniperHeartwand Sat 22-Mar-14 11:51:42

I can't understand why this article doesn't mention antenatal and postnatal depression as a huge factor in struggling to bond.

I'm sure Sutton Trust is doing great work but this guest post is baffling.

ThisFenceIsComfy Sat 22-Mar-14 12:01:47

Isolation from families and friends also massively contributes to bonding. New mothers who are on their own are at a disadvantage to start with.

Namelessonsie Sat 22-Mar-14 12:02:17

I struggled to bond with my dc,but because we are professional mc the sure start centres or hv didn't want to know. I'm fairly sure I had Pnd, and pretty shitty parenting myself which didn't help. Again my parents were high earning professionals, but didn't know want the hassle of kids once they arrived, so we were farmed out to a parade of nannies etc. why does poor attachment only warrant dealing with if you are low income? My long history of eating disorders and depression I'm sure has cost the government a lot more than some early intervention would have, add on to that my brothers addiction issues, also not helped by poor eRly attachment.

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