Discuss the contribution of Attachment Theory to the Social and Emotional development of young children. Introduction Child development is the changes which occur from birth untill puberty, in a biological, emotion and psychological sense. The events throughout this period plays a vital role in the behaviour and emotion of the child, therefore it is essential that the parents or parental figure acts appropriately around the child. Attachment can be defined as the affectional tie that a person or an animal forms between itself and another.
Attachment is one of the key factors in correct emotional, biological and psychological development, and an incorrect application of attachment would result in various problems in later life for the child. It’s responsible for shaping our future relationships, shaping or possibly damaging our abilities to focus and relax and also shapes our ability to recover from misfortune. This has been proved by people such as John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth and Jean Piaget among many others.
In this essay, I will discuss the various experiments, ideas and opinions which have led to our understanding of the attachment theory and it’s relevant to our understanding of child development. Attachment From the first day of a babies life, it starts to form relationships. It’s from the early months (approx 0-6) that a child will start to develop a relationship and begin to recognise faces, although the child will not begin to feel distressed if he or she is given attention from someone who isn’t the primary caregiver. The attachment begins to develop properly from the age of 7 months.
This is when the baby will feel uneasy when put into the care of someone who isn’t the caregiver, even something as little as being held by a stranger. As the child develops, some may begin to direct attachment behavoir to more than one caregiver. These attachment figures are then arranged in a hierartical sense, with the primary caregiver placed at the top, followed by other caregivers such as relations, family friends and other familiar faces. John Bowlby Theorist John Bowlby was the pioneer for child devlopment in relation to the attachment theory.
In his books, he described his outlook on the way children develop attachments to people from a young age. In his attachment theory, he stated that children become attached to people who show sensitivity and responsiveness to the child and anyone who interacts with the child on a regular basis. His arguement was that a child’s relationship with his or her primary caregiver, who traditionally is the mother, is like no other relationship and it is vital to develop a secure relationship or it will have massive negative impacts on the child’s behaviour and emotion.
He introduced the idea of a child having an ‘attachment figure’, ie a person in which the child has a longlasting relationship with and is uniquely important to the child. He believed that a child should have direct and continous contact with his primary caregiver, usually a mother, for at least 5 years of its life. He felt that an insecure basis of attachment between a child and its caregiver would massivly effect the child in the future.
Repeated seperation from the attachment figure will intefere with the child’s willingness to enter into relationships in the future, therefore having an impact on social skills, job performance trust in a person(s). In extreme cases, children who do not feel like they have any form of solid relationship will adopt a ‘don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel’ mindset in which they become almost mutant in their outlook on relationships. Bowlby examined the stages which a child goes through during seperation and came up with the following stages; • Protest- When the seperation first happens.
The child will cry and scream in order to get attention from mother or caregiver. • Despair- The child becomes apathetic and quiet. The child is now used to the fact that the mother is gone • Detatchment- The child now loses interest in the fact that the caregiver or mother is gone. This is the stage which Bowlby thought will have serious consequences in the child’s later life. (Beckett; 2002; pg52) Bowlby linked emotions with attachment when he stated that the most intense emotions arise during the stages of attachment relationships, ie. The formation, the maintenance, the disruption and the renewal ( Cassidy, Shaver;2008).
When there is no secure basis for a child, the child grows up, with what Bowlby describes as a dissuagement, which means that they have an unmet need. This need is the desire for a secure attachment, a feeling that someone will be there in a time of need. Mary Ainsworth Mary Ainsworth was a Canadian psychologist who was well known for her studies in developmental psychology. She took the ideas that Bowlby blossomed and delved into practical experimentation to prove that what Bowlby had stated was infact true. This experiment was called ‘The Strange Situation’. In this experiment, a mother and child are put in a room.
There are toys laid out for the child to play with, while the mother or attachment figure sits on a chair and reads a magazine. Then, a stranger is introduced to the room and is told to sit beside the mother on a seperate chair. The stranger then begins to interact with the child by playing with the toys. A few minutes later the caregiver is given a que to leave the room, leaving the child with this stranger. The mother is then told to wait outside the room for a few moments, only to open the door and return back into the room, where the child and stranger wait.
This experiment was designed to prove that there were different impacts associated with the child and the attachment which has formed between the child and the caregiver. This experiment was done on various children who were believed to have different types of secured and insecure attacments with their caregivers. Ainsworth believed that there are three different types of attachment (Ainsworth et al; 1979) and have been proven by the Strange Situation experiment. They are as follows; • Secure; the child feels comfortable enough to explore the unfamiliar setting.
It did not feel uncomfortable in the presence of stranger, but only when the mother was in the room. When the mother left the room, the child became upset and distressed. When the mother returns, the child feels happy again. • Avoidant; the child avoided the caregiver, showing no emotion or distress when the caregiver left the room. When lifted up by the caregiver, the child tried to run away and didn’t hold on to the caregiver as a secure attached child would have. • Resistant; the child felt insecure about exploring the unfamiliar area, even with its mother present.
It showed a sense of being uncomfortable when the stranger was introduced, by crawling over to its caregiver. When left alone with the stranger, the child became incredibely distressed, crying and shouting. When the mothered returned, the child calmed down and tried to remain close to her. One of Ainsworth’s co-workers, Mary Main (Greenberg et al;1993) felt that there was a fourth category. Ainsworth agreed and the following was added; • Disorganized; the child shows very extreme fear of the caregiver. When the caregiver returns to the room, the child freezes in an almost trance-like fashion. This suggests that the child has been maltreated.
Jean Piaget Piaget was a french psychologist and philosopher, best known for his study in the area of children. He’s was hugely interested in the way a child’s mind worked and developed through it’s life. His cognitive-developmental theory has heavily influenced our understanding of the developing child. This theory basically stated that a child’s mind has four different stages of development and understanding of the child’s surroundings. These stages are as follows; • Sensori-Motor (0-2 years old) This is the stage when the child’s behaviour is based purely on the child’s percepetations of what’s around them.
The child does not understand anything that is outside of their vision at a given moment. For example, if you held out a marble and the child began to play with it and then you placed the marble under a cup, the child would not understand that the marble is still there, but it is mearly hidden, because the marble is out of the child’s vision. During the later part of this stage, children may begin to realize that because something isn’t in their direct vision, it doesn’t mean that it’s non existant anymore. • Pre-Operational (2-7 years old)
Throughout this second stage, Piaget believed that the child’s mind is developing at a very fast rate and their ability to think for themselves is expanding rapidly. They begin to think outside of the ‘I can’t see it, it’s not existant’ mentality. They are now able to describe things vocally. They can also associate things with each other, for example putting things of the same colour together or putting things of the same shape together. Children also begin to show signs of imagination, for example, it is at this stage that children begin to pretend that they are certain things such as pretending to be a mother or a builder. Concrete Operational (7-12 ) The third stage of Piagets theory begins from age seven and develops untill roughly age twelve. Children now begin to use logical thinking and start to implicate the idea of ‘thinking outside of the box’, to a certain degree. They show similarities to the way adults think and can formulate valid opinions and ideals. Children generally gain the ablility to associate things in deeper contexts such as mass and weight, whereas before they could only associate things in simplier ways such as colour. • Formal Operational ( 12-adulthood)
Children, or pre-teens, are now thinking logically. They’re developing opinions and ideas based on their own morals or outlooks which have been set due to personal experience or beliefs. They think independently and have also developed the skill of thinking hypothetically. The relevance of Piaget’s theory of Cognitive development in relation to the developing child and attachment theory is based around the first stage of his theory, the sensori-motor. In simple terms, according to Piaget, what the child can’t see, does not exist.
When you apply this mindset to the idea of attachments, it’s basically implying that when a child can’t ‘see’ it’s primary caregiver, it loses faith that the primary caregiver exists and therefore the child loses any trust that was seen before. More importantly, if there is a repetition of this ‘loss’s for the child, the child will begin to block out any feelings of trust and that will lead on to relationship building problems as the child will have this attitude whereby it believes that nobody will be there for it in times of need.
Furthermore, this could lead on to various conditions such as paranoid personality disorder which is a very serious disorder. Conclusion As I’ve stated above, it’s evident that the theories and experiments of Bowlby, Ainsworth and Piaget have greatly influenced the modern day understanding of child development and the emotional and psychological needs of children. While Bowlby first devised the idea of attachment, Ainsworth went on to prove his words in her Strange Situation experiment. Piaget’s theory came from a different kind of idea.
This idea that children learn differently than adults, which in turn becomes relevant to the subject because of the way children do not understand that what isn’t there, still exists. It’s clear that a secure attachment to at least one primary caregiver is essential for a child to develop emotionally and psychologically to its full potential. References Ainsworth M, Bell S; Attachment, Exploration and Seperation; Illustrated by the behaviour of one year olds in a strange situation [Publisher could not be found]
Ainsworth M, Blehar M, Waters E, Wall, S, 1979, Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation [Published by Psychology Press, 1979] Beckett C, Taylor H, 2010, Human Growth and Developement [Published by Sage Publications LTD, 2010] Cassidy C, Shaver P, 2008, Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications [Published by Guilford Press, 2008] Greenberg M, Cicchetti D, Cummings M, 1993, Attachment in the Preschool Years: Theory, Research and Intervention [Published by University of Chicago Press, 1993]
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