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Time for Parenting...

...because raising children is a full-time job

September 2001 Newsletter

From the chair; Early attachment is crucial; In your own words; Write to your MP today!; What the papers say; Noticeboard; Your letters

Early attachment is crucial

Jill Kirby - Chair

The crucial importance of early attachment between baby and caregiver is now emphasized in official guidelines issued to child professionals, according to Jane Cassidy of the Child Psychotherapy Trust.

Speaking at a workshop held jointly by the Trust and FTM in May this year, Jane outlined the history of attachment theory and explained that it was once again in the forefront of work in child mental health. The importance of secure attachment is also underlined by recent advances in neuroscience which show the impact of attachment and early emotional responses on brain development.

Fifty years ago it was Professor John Bowlby who first drew attention to the importance of attachment in his report on maternal love and care, stressing the baby's need for a warm, intimate and continuing relationship with a parent or permanent mother substitute. Bowlby wrote about the problems of maternal separation - when a child is removed from his mother's care or when she is unable to give her child the loving care he requires - and separation anxiety - triggered by continual or repeated separation.

During the 1970s and 80s Bowlby's theories, although still echoed by research into infant's needs, tended to be brushed aside by the advocates of daycare and working motherhood. Creating lasting attachment between baby or infant and primary carer was difficult to reconcile with mothers returning to work after a short period of maternity leave, or with the reality of commercial childcare.

But the infant's most basic needs do not change just because society changes, and child professionals engaged in the treatment of neglected or disturbed children have continued to observe the importance of 'bonding' or attachment theory. Developmental psychologists remain preoccupied with the quality of the infant's very first relationship, since it is still considered the prototype for all subsequent attachments.

There will also be clinical implications for infants whose attachment has been disrupted, severed or never properly formed. Aggressive or, in extreme cases, violent or criminal behaviour , will often be traced back to neglect in babyhood. (See Book Page).

Commenting on the formal classifications of attachment, Jane Cassidy explained that 'securely attached' children (fortunately about 60%) feel confident and lovable and learn the capacity for emotional regulation. 'Insecure avoidant' or 'insecure ambivalent' children, on the other hand, tend to expect rejection, and have difficulty in dealing with negative emotions. In extreme cases, children are not just insecure but totally 'disorganised and disoriented' (usually those who have suffered severe maltreatment). They are frightened, erratic and out of control.

Clearly no-one would argue that every infant must have the constant attention of his mother, and anyway he needs to experience a range of relationships in the course of childhood. But we must as a society learn to respect the unique importance of mothering in the early years of a child's life, and provide women with the opportunity to be confident, committed and supported as mothers - so they have the opportunity to lay down the foundations for the child's emotional stability and good relationships in later life.

Want to know more? For a full report of the Workshop please send a large sae (plus 4 x 1st-class stamps to cover copying and postage) to: Sarah Douglas-Pennant, Full Time Mothers, PO Box 186, London SW3 5RF