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Parent-Infant Attachments; Part One

January 6, 2010 16 comments

“What we do to our children they will do to society.”
Carl Menninger

My mother used to tell me in our quiet moments together, “It is the responsibility of each generation to improve the next.” I believed her because it made sense to me. I ask you, the reader of this post, do we want our children to be like us, or do we want them to go beyond where we are? How we parent in the early years of our children’s lives determines the quality of their attachments to us. Attachments are the critical bond children develop to their parents during their first years of life. These attachments influence their destiny.

Children learn from their parents long before they can talk and what they observe imprints upon their brains. They follow our lead for the rest of their lives. From the moment babies are born, they seek love and security from their parents. They look to their parents to respond to them consistently with sensitivity and warmth. When children find their parents to be responsive, they form secure attachments to them. Secure attachments give our children the confidence to explore their world, develop their intellect, creativity, and personality. These first attachments influence their world view, the quality of their future relationships, and how they parent their own children. Our children imitate us; we are their first example.

Andrew Meltzoff, a graduate of Harvard University, with a Ph.D. from Oxford University, co authored the book, The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us about the Mind. He states, “Babies are very active learners, very busy interpreting the emotional and linguistic signals we give them. They are as carefully looking out and trying to make sense of us as we are of them.” University-based research has confirmed that secure children exhibit increased empathy, greater self esteem, better relationships with parents and peers, enhanced school readiness, and an increased capacity to handle emotions more effectively when compared with children who are not secure.

Parent-Infant attachment observations within the research environment have concluded that babies respond in consistent and identifiable ways to a secure or insecure attachment with their parents. Research has shown that when separated from a parent during a strange or unusual situation, a securely attached baby may cry at separation but then is quickly comforted by parental return. A baby with insecure parental attachments in the same situation behaves in one of the three following ways:

  1. Baby tries to avoid the returning parent.
  2. Baby cries at separation, but is not comforted by the parents return.
  3. Baby behaves in an odd and disoriented way.

Marc Hauser, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, is researching the interface between evolutionary biology and cognitive neuroscience. It is aimed at understanding the processes and consequences of cognitive evolution. In one experiment he took baby monkeys away from their natural mothers. He offered them 2 other mothers; one was a wire monkey that had a food feeder; the other was a cloth monkey with no food. The monkeys, when given a choice, curled up to the cloth monkey even though it did not provide food. No matter how hungry, they preferred the cloth monkey. How can I describe to you my emotions when I saw the infant monkey clinging to the cloth mother? The memories of my sons clinging to me and me clinging back washed over me and tears came to my eyes. I did not have the benefit of research and the many internet possibilities when my sons came into our lives. I had only my intuition and common sense. I knew children needed what they now define as ‘Attachment’. It makes sense.

I believe the nature of our moral judgments, our human relationships, and our capacity for language, mathematics, music, and morality are deeply rooted in attachments between the infant and his parents.

Sites that I believe you will find interesting:

http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/childhood-attachment

http://www.zerotothree.org/site/PageServer

http://www.brainybambino.com/early-child-development.html

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