New study: lack of secure attachment during early childhood harms children

This is from the leftist Brookings Institute, a respected think tank I usually disagree with.

They write about a new study:

Attachment theory is founded on the idea that an infant’s early relationship with their caregiver is crucial for social and emotional development. It is an old theory, born during the 1950s. But it can bring fresh light on issues of opportunity and equality today, as a three-decade longitudinal study of low-income children from Alan Sroufe, Byron Egeland, Elizabeth Carlson, and W. A. Collins, all University of Minnesota psychologists, demonstrates.

[…]Small infants are heavily dependent on caregivers, who must respond to their needs. But counter-intuitively, the infants who have a reliable caregiver are also most likely to become self-efficacious later.

Infants (aged 9 to 18 months) with responsive parents learn how their own behavior can impact their environment. This “call and response” process builds the infant’s sense of self-efficacy— one reason parents should pick up the sippy cup, especially for the hundredth time! But this virtuous learning cycle breaks down if the caregiver fails to respond adequately.

Here are the definitions:

  • Secure attachment: When the caregiver (mom, in this study) is present, the infant explores the room and interacts with the experimenter, occasionally returning to the caregiver for support. When the caregiver leaves, the child becomes sad and hesitates to interact with the experimenter, but upon their return, is visibly excited.
  • Anxious/resistant attachment: Regardless of the caregiver’s presence, the infant shows fear of the experimenter and novel situations—these infants cry more and explore the room less. They become upset when the caregiver leaves, and while they approach upon return often resist physical contact, as a form of “punishment”.
  • Anxious/avoidant attachment: No preference is shown between a caregiver and a stranger— infants play normally in the presence of the experimenter and show no sign of distress or interest when their caregiver leaves and returns. The experimenter and the caregiver can comfort the infant equally well.

And here the results:

The Minnesota study found that attachment makes a difference later in life. Without knowing students’ attachment history, preschool teachers judged those who had secure attachments to have higher self-esteem, to be more self-reliant, to be better at managing impulses, and to recover more easily from upsetting events. When teachers were asked which students, among those with serious struggles in class, nonetheless had “a core of inner self-worth, an indication that… maybe they could get better,” they picked students that had secure attachments as infants.

In contrast, children with anxious/resistant attachments:

  • tended to hover near teachers
  • became easily frustrated
  • were more likely to be seen as “dependent” by blinded observers
  • were less competent and patient with puzzles and other cognitive challenges

Children with anxious/avoidant attachments:

  • tended to be apathetic towards other children
  • failed to ask for adult help when stressed
  • were “often self-isolating”

Both groups had higher rates of anxiety and depression as teenagers.

So again, we are seeing that when it comes to parenting, you have to think about what you are doing. That doesn’t mean that you have to be slaves to your kids, or spoil them or hover over them. It means that what you are doing with your kids matters. It means that you need to make a plan to have enough time and money to be able to care for them. I think that the right time to talk about such things is during the courtship.

Also, one more point. If you meet people with some of these short comings, (I had most of the anxious/avoidant ones growing up), then try not to draw lines in the sand where you reject them over these shortcomings. Instead, do what I do. Recognize that these people have value and that if you take responsibility to care for them and supply for their needs, you might be able to guide them to do some pretty amazing things. Don’t be so self-centered that you expect people to be perfect so they don’t need anything from you. Nobody is perfect. Everybody has a story. If you want to be like Jesus, why not start by recognizing the effects of a disrupted childhood through study, and then make a plan to grow people – even difficult ones like me.

2 thoughts on “New study: lack of secure attachment during early childhood harms children”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s