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Research Results For Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up (ABC)

Responsive parenting in early childhood has lasting positive effects for children over many years. Rigorous studies of ABC show that, for families experiencing serious ongoing stress, the program effectively:

  • increases parents’ sensitivity and responsiveness toward their children and
  • creates powerful emotional, cognitive, and physical results for children in the key areas of development through age five.

Below is a summary of these key results for children seen in several randomized control trials of ABC.

Early childhood (1 – 5 years old): Stress system well-being

Healthy levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the body’s stress response system, support positive mental and physical health functioning. When children experience stress, resulting disruptions to cortisol levels can lead to behavior and attention problems, such as defiance and hyperactivity, and poor executive functioning. Children who receive ABC show more normalized levels of cortisol than children in the control group, with effects seen within months of ABC as well as 3 years later.

Infancy (1 – 2 years old): Secure attachments

Infants with secure attachments learn to turn to their parents in times of distress and confidently explore their world once soothed. Forming a secure attachment to a parent in the first two years of life is critical for healthy social and emotional development. Infants who received ABC were twice as likely to develop a secure (versus an insecure) attachment to their parents than children in the control group.

Toddlerhood (2 – 3 years old): Emotion regulation

The ability to express and regulate negative emotions, such as frustration, is an essential building block for success in school, getting along with peers, and dealing with stress. During a challenging problem-solving task, toddlers who received ABC showed lower levels of anger than children in the control group.

Preschool-age (3 – 5 years old): Executive functioning

As young children approach preschool age, executive functioning skills become the key developmental milestone needed for success. Executive functioning includes a set of cognitive and behavioral skills, such as impulse control, cognitive flexibility, and problem-solving. Preschool-age children who received ABC showed higher levels of executive functioning than children in the control group.