October 17, 2021

The State of Our Families Part II: The Attachment Principle

Let’s briefly discuss one of the “Seven Guiding Principles for Creating A Healthy Family.” The Attachment Principle refers to natural laws that define the affectionate bond between our children and their attachment figures, who are usually their parents. Our children’s need for protection, security and safety instinctively motivates such a connection. The psychological aim is security and the biological aim is survival. Over time, our infant and toddler children can seek closeness and attachment with more than one person and will start to discriminate between several caregivers and arrange a hierarchy, with the principal caregiver at the top. This is usually the mother, but can be the father or grandparent or any individual who is sensitive and responsive in social interactions. As our children mature and are confronted with greater demands in a larger world, they become more discriminative and flexible in the use of their attachment hierarchy.

In a child-to-adult relationship, the child’s connection is called the attachment and the adult’s connection is called the bond. As parents, we bond with our children from the time they are infants, and because we’re available for consistent and caring responsiveness to their needs; we become their attachment figures. Research suggests that while proximity and quantity of interaction have a role, the quality of our interaction is more important. This means that we, as parents, must have a specific set of behaviors. These behaviors involve engaging in lively social interaction with our children from an early age and responding readily and effectively to their signals and approaches. We must be physically and emotionally available and fully engaged, for healthy bonding-attachment to develop.

The goal of the attachment behavioral system is for us to ensure that our children maintain a connection with an available and accessible attachment figure. They are more likely to become alarmed when fearful of danger, or anxious when afraid of being cut off from us. But as they develop strong and secure attachments, the level and frequency of their alarm and anxiety tend to diminish, thus allowing more exploration.

The quality of the attachment depends on the history of their care, as they begin to predict the behavior of their caregiver through repeated interactions. The focus is the organization or pattern of the interaction and not the quantity of attachment behaviors. The goal is to form a secure attachment pattern, because an insecure pattern tends to compromise exploration, self-confidence and mastery of their environment, leading to eventual problems with their gaining independence. Young children are more likely to explore when their caregiver is present. The bottom line, then, is that the attachment our infants develop with us depends on the quality of care we provide for them. We need to be present and engaged in our children’s lives as we expose them to an enriched environment, and then enjoy them as they explore and develop confidence.

Psychologist Harry Harlow conducted two attachment studies involving infant rhesus monkeys. He found that the primary attribute of a surrogate mother was not the provision of food, but rather “softness.” These infant monkeys formed an affectionate bond with a soft object that didn’t provide food and was pleasant to touch, and not with a wire object that was unpleasant to touch but did provide food. Biological survival requires nourishment. We would resume, therefore, that food would be at the top of the infant’s hierarchy, but softness—a psychological need—seemed to play a stronger role in attachment. Our lesson from this study is that, as parents, we need to provide plenty of affectionate and tender touch for our children as we help them develop a secure base.

Dr. Mary Ainsworth, a developmental psychologist, defined four attachment patterns with her research: secure attachment, avoidant attachment, ambivalent/ anxious attachment and disorganized attachment. She also coined the term “secure base” and described it as rapprochement, which is French for “bring together.” In other words, if our children have a secure attachment with us from the time of their birth, they are more likely to explore and learn about their environment when they have the knowledge of a secure base to return to, especially in times of need.
A child with an insecure pattern of attachment (particularly disorganized) is at high risk for future childhood disorders. While research doesn’t link this pattern to the cause of a specific disorder, it does establish the connection with a much higher risk for peer relationship problems, including increased anxiety, mood regulation problems, and disruptive behavior. For example, in a school setting, an anxious child is more likely to have internalized problems and be moody or depressed, or to experience increased body complaints and withdrawal. An avoidant and disorganized child is more likely to develop externalized problems and be more aggressive or defiant and exhibit other conduct disturbances.

The attachment process might be understood best as an “attachment behavior system.” No parent has always behaved in an ideal way to promote perfect bonding and attachment. This fact is not to excuse us, but rather to explain the importance of our developing a healthy and adaptive model.
Based on past philosophical and theoretical writings, but especially on more current cognitive psychological research, we know that an “internal working model” has much to say about attachment and our relationships. Internal working models are an association of mental pictures and aroused feelings. These mechanisms give us the ability to anticipate and interpret another person’s behavior and then plan an appropriate response. As we physically grow and mature, we have a greater sophistication in our model. Research suggests that our brains don’t fully mature until we’re in our mid-twenties or later. As parents, then, we have the ability to reflect on our internal working model related to attachment and to make whatever changes are necessary for the sake of our children. We’ll want to do this, because of the evidence that our children’s attachment pattern is predicted by our own attachment pattern.

If our infants and toddlers experience security, support, and encouragement from us as their primary caretakers, they’re more likely to develop a positive self-image and then expect positive behaviors from others. Conversely, if they experience neglect and abuse, they’re more likely to develop a negative self-image and then project the same characteristics onto others.
Studies show that these models have continued across three generations. Who we are and what we do has a lasting impact on our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If our children fall into the same categories as our own, then, as parents, our internal working model governs the way we relate to them. Some prominent researchers in this field believed that the earliest internal working models formed are the most likely to persist, because they’re deeply embedded in the subconscious. However, our working models are subject to change, depending on our experiences and our own personal responsibility for adaptive change.

It seems that when we are bonded with our children, and we engage in an organized and adaptive pattern of behavior, they are able to develop secure attachment, balance and autonomy (self-regulation). Our conscious efforts promote healthy systems for our family’s growth. This bonding and healthy and secure attachment is a natural mechanism that will affect many aspects of our children’s lives. One of the aspects will be our strong parent-child relationship and behavior management.
In simple terms, what can we take away from this first principle of attachment?

  • The parent-child attachment process is natural and follows certain rules. It begins from the moment our children are born into this world.
  • We parents are in charge of bonding with our children and we must choose to behave in an organized and predictable manner, if our children are to learn how to develop a secure attachment. The process takes work and will require our availability and accessibility for our children.
  • We must balance our behaviors with developing a secure base and encouraging self-exploration. Recognizing and developing sophistication with our own internal working model is an immense help in the attachment process, as our working model expresses our own pattern of attachment and this can predict that of our children.
  • We are the primary teachers of our children. When they are securely attached to us, their learning becomes more expansive and efficient.
  • Attachment is the first principle of the Power Parent.

As the state of our families go…so goes the state of our nation and world. Let’s do the hard work to be personally responsible “Power-Parents.”
Dr. B

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Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this. . . I rmmeeber reading Population Bomb nearly two decades ago, making notations, and just being livid at the lies and disdain of children and PEOPLE. It was heartbreaking to see a philosophy set out that see PEOPLE as the root of all evil, and the elimination of people as the solution to all problems.

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