A new study published in Psychological Science uses 10 years of data on kids to tie together three earlier established theories about kids. What is already known is that children who are sufficiently attached to their parents (based on a clinical definition of “attached,” unrelated to attachment parenting) typically demonstrate better self-control—and that superior self-control is an indicator of academic achievement. But the study, led by Lilian Dindo who studies psychiatry and behavioral Sciences at the Baylor College of Medicine, ties the three together in an “adaptive cascade.”
Here’s why that’s important:
Attachment, control and academic success are linked together for the first time
“No one has actually shown that three-way link, that attachment does lead to effortful control and effortful control does lead to better academic success—that something at the age of 2 or 3 can predict something in the early teen years,” Dindo says. The practical takeaway is that parents can be educated on how to be better attached.
For purposes of the study, "attachment" refers to the way parents respond to children who are in distress. You can teach someone to be receptive to a child’s distress in a way that’s warm and receptive and kind and gentle and loving instead of teaching "Don’t cry, suck it up, don’t be afraid, don’t be anxious."
She also notes the influence emotional intelligence has on academic success—that it’s not only defined by IQ. “We don’t often pay attention to the goal of something very social and very interpersonal as effecting something very cognitive.”
You can gauge how self-controlled your kid is at home (to a certain degree)
While you won’t be able to grade your kids on the curve Dindo and her co-authors did, she says there are still ways parents can test out their kids’ self-control. You can replicate the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment and see if your child can hold out on a small reward right away or if they can hold out for a bigger reward later on. Dindo says, “You can see if the child can whisper more, if the child can slow down when you ask them to write down something if you give them a reward to do so, or ask them not to unwrap a gift for five minutes after you leave the room.”
Don’t skimp on family time in favor of flash cards
While obviously the study results don’t imply that familial attachment is a replacement for time spent on reading and academic enrichment, parents can now think of bonding time as being part of the foundation of a good academic career, instead of just a pleasant distraction. “The takeaway for me was maybe what we as parents really should focus on is instilling things like patience, focus, and—dare I say it—love, if we want kids to be successful in school,” says Wakiza Gámez of the University of Iowa, one of the study’s co-authors and a father of two. “It’s not that intelligence isn't important, but that these other aspects get overlooked and may be just as important.”