This article, written by Nikki Martyn, University of Guelph-Humber, originally appeared on The Conversation and published here with permission:
We were born to connect. As a human being, we are relational and we need biological, emotional and psychological contact with others.
We learn how to connect and create the patterns we form during our time and our early childhood.
These patterns and experiences are located in us and become the way we understand how the world and people work. Such early experiences with our primary care providers teach us what we can expect throughout life.
Attachments are the relational dance that parents and children share together. You can think of this when you see a baby watching their parent and they catch each other's eyes in a wonderful look: the parent smiles and the child smiles and then the parent kisses and the child coos. Or when an infant cries to tell the parents, the hungry and the parent picks up the baby and gives a warm cozy snuggle and the baby is dull with a full heart and stomach.
This is the dance that creates the framework for the interactions that we have throughout our lives and how we understand love.
Babies need to love affiliation to thrive
René Spitz was a psychiatrist who studied infants and children in orphanages and prisons before Western medicine understood the importance of attachment or connection.
Through his research in the 1930s, Spitz discovered infants and children could die if they weren't connected or moved: they could get adequate nutrition and health care but failed to thrive on lack of loving contact.
Spitz filmed children and toddlers who were deprived of healthy engagement and used the images to promote changes in how institutions cared for infants and children. Today, such images can seem deeply disturbing and haunting.
How we learn to interact and engage with our primary care providers is how we engage with people throughout our lives. So here are basic relationships with us.
Peek-a-Boo is more than a game
Appendix is a relational process that builds throughout the infant and is established at eight months when the child develops certain cognitive skills. The child develops the cognitive ability of what the teacher calls the object's duration – understanding of cause and effect, and that people and objects exist when we cannot see them. The child who loves the game kika-a-boo is at this stage of development.
What we learn through children and childhood is a set of behaviors and ways of thinking and feeling ourselves and others, to understand how relationships work.
This is what psychologists call work models in the world, schedules or views of the world that the child develops.
For example, how a child understands what happens if they meet with a ball will reflect their working model. Do they think that the other child hates them and that means it is a child who seems to be an accident?
A sense of security or uncertainty
These attachment patterns or ways of understanding interactions are what we learn through our relationships with our caregivers.
A child develops a safe attachment (or relationship) to their parents when the child experiences the parents so safe to explore the world from. The parents' ability to respond to the child carefully when the child needs them is crucial for the child to have a safe connection with them.
Annex theory contains four categories or ways of understanding the attached behaviors: safe, uncertain avoidance, ambivalent and disorganized.
The child with a secure attachment pattern has learned that their emotional needs will be met. As an adult, this person finds it relatively easy to be close to others and does not worry about closeness or abandonment.
The child with an avoidable fastening pattern has learned that the parent is not emotionally available and does not respond when needed. As an adult, this person rejects emotions and relationships and does not like coming too close to people.
The child with an ambivalent connection pattern has learned that the parents are sometimes diminished and sometimes emotionally inaccessible. As an adult, this person is concerned with relationships that they often worry about being abandoned.
Finally, uncertain unorganized attachment – which is believed to affect 15 percent of the population – arises when children have experienced significant trauma. The child with an unorganized attachment pattern expresses fear during interactions.
The parents' enclosed classification – the patterns of how they themselves interacted with their own parent – often goes between the generations. This means that we tend to parent how we were parenting.
Attachment can be changed
Attachment patterns may differ from each parent-child's relationship. Patterns can be changed from uncertain to safe.
A child can become safer if a parent becomes more sensitive to the child's clues. An adult can become safer by having a significant relationship that allows them to trust the other to respond to their emotional needs.
Attachments can also be changed from safe to uncertain if the person experiences stressful life events or if the parent becomes less emotionally available to the child.
Helps your child connect
Helping your child to build the foundation for creating positive adaptive relationships with people throughout life is important. Here are some tips:
Comfort your child when they are physically injured, ill, upset, afraid or alone.
React and label your child.
Give your child a sense of trust in the world and the people in it.
Share warm happy experiences and memories and create family traditions.
When you leave your child, let them know where you are going and when you come back and give them a security object to remember you.
Try to be as predictable and positive as possible when responding to your child's behavior.
Physically play and share time, make eye contact, touch and share emotions.
Be aware of how much time your child is in front of or using technology. All experiences, including the use of technology, affect brain development.
Think about what you want or think is important for the adult you want your child to be. Give the experience in childhood to support that vision.
Let us strive as parents not to be perfect but good enough.
– Nikki Martyn, program leader for youth studies, University of Guelph-Humber
This article is published from the conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.