Children, more especially boys, who are insecurely attached to their mothers early on, face more behaviour problems later in childhood, says a new study.

The attachment theory says that children with secure attachments have repeated experiences with caregivers who are responsive to their needs and thus expect their caregivers to be available and comforting when called upon.

Conversely, children with insecure attachments have experiences in which requests are discouraged, rejected, or responded to inconsistently, which is thought to make them vulnerable to developing behavioural problems, says a University of Reading (UK) release.

The meta-analysis is based on 69 studies involving almost 6,000 children aged 12 and younger.

“The results suggest that the effects of attachment are reliable and relatively persistent over time,” notes Pasco Fearon, associate psychology professor, University of Reading, who led the study with researchers from the US and the Netherlands.

“More specifically, children who seem unable to maintain a coherent strategy for coping with separation are at greatest risk for later behaviour problems and aggression,” Mr. Fearon adds.

The researchers sought to clarify the extent to which bonds between children and their moms early in life affect children's later behavioural problems, such as aggression or hostility; behaviour problems were measured up to age 12.

The study was published in the March-April issue of “Child Development”.