Attachment in Infancy and Outcomes

The attachment between children and their caregivers has been studied for many years. Theories have been developed about attachment styles, parenting techniques that foster secure attachment, and the effects on social development. Dr. Daniel Siegel, a child and adolescent psychiatrist from UCLA, has written a number of books on early child development. He states that ‘attachment experiences early in life appear to have direct influences upon various basic processes, including forms of memory, narrative, emotional regulation, and interpersonal behavior.’

Two students from Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario – Dana Greenbaum and Andrea Wilkinson – have recently produced a video called ‘The Role of Attachment in Infancy and Physical Health Outcomes‘. This video has won the Psychology Foundation of Canada’s scholarship competition. A number of mental health professionals from Toronto are featured in the video, discussing attachment, stress, and parenting. Dr. Judith Andersen discusses the physiological stress response that happens in an individual. She states that if the stress response goes on too long in a child, it is thought to cause the child’s ‘system’ to malfunction. Insecure attachment has been linked to a number of negative outcomes throughout the lifespan, including depression, anxiety, withdrawal, aggression and physical illness. Dr. Leslie Atkinson makes a number of suggestions that are important in optimizing the relationship between a parent and child. These include being sensitive to your child’s need for affection and enjoying your child, while at the same time balancing your own needs and attending to the needs of the couple. I hope you enjoy this video.

Teen Mental Health

Mental health is an area that is easily neglected, and feelings of burn out in jobs and family life are all too common in today’s world. Learning to take care of yourself and monitor your mental health is something that can start at an early age. IWK Health Centre and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, have developed a website providing a seemingly unending amount of material related to mental health in teens. It has ideas for parents, teenagers and professionals to help reduce the stigma of mental health, as well as strategies to cope with mental health issues.There are also guides for family members of individuals with mental health disorders, such as younger siblings (e.g., ‘My Brother/Sister Has a Mental Illness: A Guide for Young People Ages 11-16‘).

One section I found particularly interesting is about sleep in teenagers, with a slide show called ‘Why Teens Need Their Sleep’. Sleep is very important for learning and memory. The slide show states that teenagers need 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep each night, although many of them do not get that much. This is due to a change in the sleep cycle that happens during adolescence, resulting in teens being more likely to stay up late and sleep in. Research has also shown that teens perform better on tasks that measure reaction time (how quickly they respond to something) in the afternoon, which is likely related to the change in their sleep cycle. Teens report feeling more groggy in the morning, and need to expend more energy to complete their work. Things parents and teenagers can do to help with sleep issues is decrease late night stimulating activities (e.g., internet use, T.V., etc.), and bring awareness of these differences in adolescents to others, such as teachers, other parents and physicians.

Understanding the Teenage Brain

As our children enter the ‘teen’ stage of their lives, they are expected to become more independent in their thinking, both in school and in their daily lives. This independent, higher level thinking is thought to involve a set of skills sometimes known as ‘executive skills’ or ‘executive function’. Executive skills are those higher-level reasoning, planning, problem-solving and inhibition skills that allow us to do such things as complete work efficiently and effectively, interact appropriately with others, and make sound decisions. Dr. Russel Barkley, a well-known researcher in the area of attention and executive function, describes executive function as “actions we perform to ourselves and direct at ourselves so as to accomplish self-control, goal-directed behavior, and the maximization of future outcomes.”

Research has begun to show that a lot of physical changes are happening in the adolescent brain, especially during the first few years following puberty. In addition, researchers such as Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Suparna Choudhury have reviewed a number of studies and found that the brain continues to change and develop, with a lot of those changes occurring during adolescence and early adulthood. These researchers and others question whether these changes might ‘interfere’ with executive skills development during early adolescence, as some of the brain areas involved in executive function (namely the frontal and prefrontal areas of the brain) are quite actively changing during this time.

A recent interview on PBS of Dr. Deborah Yurgelen-Todd highlights how changes happening in a teenager’s brain might affect how they function. This research looks at how adolescents might interpret information in their environment differently than adults. I hope you find this interesting.

What are some things that you can do?

There are a number of books that parents can read that can help them ‘coach’ or ‘teach’ their children and adolescents (and sometimes themselves) how to better use executive skills. For example, a book called Smart But Scattered by Dawson and Guare is easily available online or through your local bookstore. Upper Canada College, a private boys’ school here in Toronto, has also provided a number of resources on their website to help with organization and planning. This is through their Richard Wernham and Julia West Centre for Learning.


Welcome to my website. I am a clinical child psychologist in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Please click on the links above or to the right to find out more about me.

Please check back regularly to see posts about psychology, including interesting information about child and adolescent assessment, as well as evidence-based treatment for children, adolescents and families. I hope you find this site helpful, and look forward to hearing from you. Enjoy!