By: Lesley Stoller
When detached from their parents they experience Sleeping trust issue insecure and attachment styles.
Children who have spent their early childhoods in institutional settings in which they received care but not love develop weakened immune systems, physical abilities, learning abilities and problems with social interaction. They often failed to gain in weight and height, had trouble sleeping and developed depression learning disabilities and even the withdrawal signs of autism.
As American psychologist, Harry Harlow’s experiments in the 1950s demonstrated, a strong emotional bond with one’s parents—or what psychologists call “secure attachment”—is crucial to good health and flourishing later in life. Harlow tested whether young rhesus monkeys would choose a surrogate mother made of soft terry cloth but who provided no food, or one made of wire but who delivered food from an attached baby bottle. He found that the baby monkeys spent significantly more time with their cloth mother than with their wire mother. The baby monkeys would turn to their cloth mother for comfort and security and would use the cloth mother as a secure base to explore the room.
British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, the founding father of attachment theory, described attachment as an emotional bond that impacts behavior “from the cradle to the grave.” How you bond with caregivers during early childhood affects how you behave in relationships and friendships, how in touch you are with your emotions and how much you will allow yourself to love others on a conscious level. Bowlby argued that the early attachment processes lead to a particular mental model of relationships that continues to shape the child’s interactions with other people as the child matures. The mental model is an implicit belief system about child-caregiver interactions that to some extent predict how the child will interact with future caregivers, romantic partners, friends, teachers and colleagues.
Psychologist Mary Ainsworth, who worked with Bowlby, carried out the first study of attachment in infancy in Uganda from 1953 to 1955. The study observed twenty-eight unweaned babies from twenty-three families in six local villages. It was customary to uproot babies from their mother when they were weaned and leave them with the grandmother. This custom allowed for a convenient way for the researchers to gauge how the youngsters would behave when separated from their birth mother.
Ainsworth found that babies of mothers who were attuned to their youngsters’ needs developed a secure attachment style, whereas babies of mothers who were imperceptive, aloof or erratic developed an insecure attachment style. Five of the twenty-eight infants apparently had failed to develop an attachment to their mother, and this correlated with a largely unapproachable or unpredictable parenting style. Seven babies were attached in an insecure way and experienced great difficulties being separated from their mother, probably as a result of the mother’s inconsistency and own insecurities
Since the highpoint of Bowlby’s career, plenty of real-life situations appear to confirm the theory that infants need secure bonding to thrive.
In the 1980s and 1990s a ban on abortion in Romania led to a sharp increase in orphanage infants. These infants were fed and kept clean but were not forming a healthy emotional bond with a caregiver. As a result, they developed autistic-like behaviors, repetitively rocking or banging their heads. They were also affected physically. Their head circumference was significantly smaller than average, and they had a problem attending and comprehending language.
Children who have spent their early childhoods in institutional settings in which they received care but not love develop weakened immune systems, physical abilities, learning abilities and problems with social interaction. They often failed to gain in weight and height, had trouble sleeping and developed depression and even the withdrawal signs of autism.
Perhaps the most recent extreme case of lack of emotional stimuli in early childhood is that of Danielle, a horrific case of child neglect. When Danielle’s situation was finally getting the attention of the police and child protective services, Danielle was seven, but she was still in rarely changed diapers, locked in a small room, never attended to, never talked to, never experienced any signs of affection. She was undernourished, unable to speak and had suffered severe brain damage as a consequence of the physical and emotional neglect. Now a teenager, she still is unable to speak and, mentally, she is not much older than a very young child.
Danielle’s case is extreme. And rare, thankfully. But insecure attachment is not. Recent reports reveal that a shockingly high number of children are not securely attached to their parents. Forty percent of U.S. children lack strong emotional bonds with their parents and hence are likely to have an insecure attachment style, according to a report published by Sutton Trust. The reason for this may turn on the lack of parental autonomy which, as we have seen, is likely consequence of parenting and which can affect parents’ interest and ability to bond with their children.
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