We all need to leave our children at some point in their early development. No denying, it can be very distressing for both chid and parent, and when this happens, we wish that we could leave the room without them crying and they could just play happily until we return. Sounds good. However, if your child cries when you leave and is showing signs of distress, paradoxically, you should be rather happy.
One of the most exciting research done in psychology in the past thirty years explored early attachment and discovered that our early relationships shape us beyond our imagination. Not only does it have an impact on how we tell 'the story' of our lives when we reach adulthood but also how our minds develop in childhood.
So what do we know?
Leaving our child in a 'Strange Situation' activates the child's attachment system and is inherently stressful. How the child responds to this situation could be directly linked to results from observations of children and their parents at home. Interestingly, the REUNION part turned out to be the key.
There were four patterns: 2/3 of children in the general population clearly miss the parent, often cry. When the parent returns, the child actively greets them, often wanting to have a cuddle or touching the parent. After this, they settle down and continue to explore and play. We call this secure attachment when parents in early years are sensitive to the baby's bids for connection and effectively meet that need.
Other children showed no distress or anger whatsoever when the parent left and ignored or avoided the parent on return. Why do you think this happened? In these cases, home observations showed, that the parent didn't respond to the child's signals in a reliable and sensitive manner, sometimes even ignoring the signals and the child's distress. So the infant gradually learnt that they won't be soothed and developed a coping mechanism to minimise the activation of the attachment circuitry. This is what's called the avoidant attachment.
Another 10-15% of children show ambivalent attachment. What led to this? Parental inconsistency specifically in the first year of life. At times the parent is sensitive and responsive, at other times not at all. So the child with the activated limbic distress has an over activated attachment circuitry. What does it mean? These infants seem wary or distressed even before the separation and when the parent returns, they often continue to cry, clinging to the parent with a look of concern or desperation.
Later studies have found disorganised attachments, which appears in about 10% of the general population and sadly 80% of high risk groups such as children of drug addicted parents. Here the child approaches the parent but then withdraws even freezes. Sometimes clings or cries simultaneously pulling away. It happens when the parents show a terrifying lack of attunement, when they are frightening to the child or often frightened themselves. Whereas in the previous attachment examples, the children find coping strategies, in this case the child cannot find any effective ways to cope and the attachment strategies collapse.
Many of the children first participating in these research studies have been followed for more than a quarter of a century.
Despite all other influences on their development, their personal characteristics tend to diverge in predictable ways.
From the viewpoint of interpersonal neurobiology, the secure parent - child attachment promotes the growth of the integrative fibers in the child's brain. These children meet their intellectual potential, develop good relationships with others and regulate their emotions well.
In contrast, when their attachment to the parent was restricted emotionally (avoidant), their peers often described them as aloof, controlling or unlikeable. The signs of ambivalent attachment are a great deal of insecurity and anxiety.
Disorganised attachment impairs the ability to relate to others and regulate emotions, and many show signs of dissociation, with a higher risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic event.
Do you wonder like I did - what if it's also related to genetics? A leading researcher on the genetics of personality said that attachment patters appear to be one of the few dimensions of human life, that are largely independent of genetic influence. This shows when we observe children with different caregivers and we can see that their attachment patterns are different depending on who they are with.
Naturally, who we become as adults is shaped by genes, experience and chance - this is in addition to our earliest attachment to our caregivers.
So for anyone who doubts the influence of parents, these extensive studies demonstrate clearly that what parents do and don't do matters enormously.
We work with a lot of children and young people who don't believe in themselves and feel they are alone. Even though they have privileged lives, and parents who would do anything for them, the children can't see it. It is a dangerous and scary place to be for both the parent and the child, especially when the child does not see a way out of their problems, and is self-harming or having suicidal thoughts.
We can all make mistakes and we can correct them. Not suicide though. There is a lot we can do as we are by their side on their journey as parents, teachers, mentors, friends.
What this talk is not: We are not telling you how to do your parenting. It is entirely your decision. Nobody has all the answers, we will share with you what we know from research and experience so you can make more informed decisions.
What this talk is about: Understanding how we can help our children find themselves through changing our perspective, and connecting with them more in ways that are meaningful for them.
Advance tickets can be booked for only £15 until 15th October, then £25 Ticket numbers are limited and if they sell out in advance, there will be no opportunity to purchase tickets on the door.
Bring your questions.
When? Tuesday, November 7, 2017. at 6:45 PM - 8.15 PM
Where? Hambleden Village Hall RG9 6RP
We are looking forward to seeing you.