Child Development: Secure vs Insecure Attachment
Over the past 60 years, there has been a lot of research about “attachment” in early childhood. Even as early as 12 months of age, a child can be observed by researchers to have a “secure attachment” with his or her parent(s) or an “insecure attachment.”
There have been some studies which suggest that this can be a contributing “risk factor” for developing a personality disorder, including the behavior we see in child alienation cases.
A “primary attachment” relationship starts at birth, usually with one or both parents. It is necessary for survival at first, but then it is necessary for growth and building a foundation for all future relationship skills. A child “turns on” his attachment behavior of seeking his primary attachment figure (usually Mom or Dad) through eye contact, getting closer (grabbing legs, crawling) and trying to communicate their needs. If there’s no response, then he will shift to extreme behavior (screaming, tantrum) until he gets the attention he needs.
This primary attachment relationship is the foundation of all of a child’s close relationships in life – primarily learned the first year, but especially the first five years, and to some extent through all of childhood into adulthood.
The primary attachment relationship is most often with the child’s mother, but others in the child’s life may also form a meaningful “attachment” relationship, including the child’s father, siblings, grandparents and others. Sometimes it’s the father with whom the child has the most secure attachment relationship. While relationships throughout life will come and go, what happens through an early childhood attachment relationship is necessary for human survival and growth.
Learning about the important lessons a child must learn in their early childhood attachment relationships is key. Much of this is learned by mirroring parents – their facial expressions, tone of voice, hand gestures, and so forth. But much of this is also learned by having parents mirror the child. When a parent (or other attachment figure) mirrors the child’s facial expressions, tone of voice, hand gestures, and so forth, the child becomes aware of him or herself. It is only through others that they can develop a sense of self – by being responded to in a satisfying way and specific way (now you seem sad, now you seem angry, now you seem hungry).
These lessons cannot be taught like a lecture or a class. These lessons are learned by how the parent and other attachment figures respond to the child’s behavior. So it is only when a baby cries that a baby can learn that their cries will get sympathetic attention from their attachment figures. It is only when a baby laughs, that they learn that other people like it when they laugh. You don’t teach a baby to cry or to laugh. You respond!
Excerpt from Don’t Alienate the Kids! Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High-Conflict Divorce. By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Published by HCI Press.