Every now and then we parents receive comments from outsiders (usually friends and relatives) such as:
“Your child is very attached to you.”
“Your child won’t go to anyone else.”
“Your child cries when his mother is not around.”
These comments are often combined with some “wise” advice on how we should confront the “attachment problem”.
But, is attachment a normal or an abnormal situation from a scientific perspective? Does it create a positive bond between a child and its parent — or is it an atypical behaviour?
Let’s start with the fact that we are born with the ability and the need to bond. At a very early stage in our life, during our prenatal development to be precise, we hear and remember the voice of our mother. The first strong bonding relationship starts here.
Then, 23–26 weeks after birth, babies go through a developmental leap, which, among other things, is characterized by separation anxiety when leaving its parent. So, scientifically speaking, attachment cannot be avoided.
What happens though, is that a parent´s behaviour influences the type of bond created between a child and the parent.
If a parent:
responds to the child’s needs;
is available and consistent with his/her behavior;
makes the child feel secure;
helps the child manage stress;
teaches the child how to recognize and express emotions;
avoids being overprotective; and
permits the child to make mistakes and is readily forgiving,
then the bond will most likely be positive, or, using psychology terminology, there will be a “secure attachment.”
On the other hand, if a parent:
is overprotective or avoidant;
is inconsistent with his/her behaviour;
ignores the child’s needs;
displays frightening or traumatizing behavior; and
is intrusive, unavailable and, in more extreme cases, abusive,
then the bond will most likely be negative, or, using psychology terminology, there will be an “insecure attachment.”.
And if you are still wondering why all of this information matters, just recall from your own experience what “solving” the attachment bond meant in your later life. A person who had a positive bond and experienced secure attachment in his / her early years will most likely be:
able to create meaningful relationships;
able to set proper boundaries;
brave enough to make mistakes and try new things;
emotionally balanced; and
able to deal with stress.
On the other hand, a person who has had a negative bond and experienced insecure attachment relationships in his / her early years can be:
reluctant with others;
unable or unwilling to share thoughts and emotions; and
unpredictable (in many cases).
In the extreme cases of child abuse, the child is likely to end up depressed, abusive, insensitive and unable to establish secure relationships in its adult years.
Leaving it to science
If you are still not convinced — there is more. Psychological research has shown that even neurobiological outcomes can be found to underlie the attachment relationships. We know that early development of a child’s right side of the brain has deep connections into the limbic and autonomic nervous systems and is dominant for the human stress response. In this manner, the attachment relationship facilitates the expansion of the child’s coping capacities. This is very crucial if we take into consideration that environmental experience can either enable or constrain the structure and function of the developing brain.
So, next time someone says your child is spoiled because it is clinging on to you and won’t let you go just tell them you are not so concerned about the present but about your child’s future.