'Love builds brains': representations of attachment and children's brain development in parenting education material

Sociol Health Illn. 2018 Mar;40(3):395-409. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12632. Epub 2017 Dec 12.


A focus on early brain development has come to dominate expert child rearing advice over the past two decades. Recent scholars have noted a reinvigoration of the concept of attachment in this advice and changes in the ways that attachment is framed and understood. The extent to which the concept of attachment is drawn on, the way it is framed, and the consequences for mothers, families and parent-child relationships is examined through a discursive analysis of a current Canadian parental education campaign. Findings support the argument that attachment is receiving a great deal of attention in brain-based parenting education programmes as children's emotional development becomes increasingly prioritized. Attachment is presented as needing to be actively and continually built through expert-guided empathetic and responsive parental behaviour, and is framed as crucial for the development of brain pathways that promote emotional strength and self-regulation in children. Attachment-building is also presented as requiring highly intensive parenting that falls overwhelmingly to mothers. The parent-child relationship that is envisioned is one that is instrumental, lacking in affect and conducive to the creation of ideal self-regulating neo-liberal citizens.

Keywords: children; family/kinship; gender; health beliefs; health education/promotion; parenting/parents.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Canada
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Health Education*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Love*
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Object Attachment*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting / psychology*