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The Importance of Early Infant Attachment
|Posted by Dave on June 20, 2010 at 10:30 AM|
Nature provides for the care of newborns by creating strong attachments between parent and child. For most (but not all) moms and many dads, the attachment drive comes naturally. This helps ensure the infant’s safety and survival. In addition, this attachment is essential for the development of personality, language, and emotional health.
Broken down into its essentials:
1) A steady, responsive caregiver
2) Social interaction
4) Meeting child’s basic needs – food, comfort
Scientists are now finding that both moms and dads experience changes in certain hormone levels when a baby is born that condition the parents to nurture and protect their child. One hypothesis is that the changes are triggered by the cries of a newborn. This is a relatively new area of inquiry with much more yet to be discovered.
By influencing the neuro-endocrine system, the structure and function of the infant’s brain development is also affected by this attachment. A child’s earliest experiences helps shape the way he or she perceives other people, and affects many aspects of development including a sense of self, motor activity and skills, emotion, ability to handle stress (especially in later life), reactions to danger, fear and loneliness, and memory.
Because the foundational elements of personality are the result of nature, not nurture, the effects of adequate attachment will vary from child to child. Some are born more resilient than others, and what destroys one child may have little effect on another. However, we can’t know that in a child’s earliest years. Every infant needs to receive all the essentials, no matter who provides them.
Does it have to be the biological mom or dad? Research says no. While nature puts the mother in the number one position, an infant will bond with any nurturing primary caregiver. It’s the interaction that’s most important. Attachments tend to be with only one or two people in any case. Multiple or random caregivers generally results in no real attachment being formed, as is often the case with children raised in large, poorly run orphanages. Few of those children escape without serious emotional deficits, and are often unable to form close, meaningful relationships as adults.
In raising kids, you can make lots of mistakes with relatively few consequences, but this isn’t true with infant attachment. It prepares a child for the future more than anything to follow later in life. It helps build the child’s personality, sense of place in the world, comfort with other people, and so much more that it can be said to be the single most important relationship in a person’s life.
Of course, as with anything important, someone will decide that if some is good, more is certainly better, and then take it to extremes. The same is true with parent-child attachment. A small number of parents have embraced what is called "Attachment Parenting."
The idea seems to be that children should decide when to be weaned from infantile behaviors, such as nursing at mom's breast or "clingy" behavior. In fact, nursing and sleeping with mom seem to be two key components of this fad. So far, anecdotal reports show some kids hanging on to mom as late as 8 or 9.
Little is known about the effects of this on later development, school performance, peer relationships, or the ability of children to flourish and cope in the adult world. The results will only become known over time. I may write another blog entry discussing and examining Attachment Parenting, but my initial take is that it has limited, if any benefits, and may significantly delay important development milestones. It may be more about moms who become obsessed with the mother-infant attachment relationship and want it to last as long as possible.
Categories: General Topics