John Bowlby (1907-1990)  Attachment Theory & Practices in Early Years Education

British psychologist John Bowlby was the first attachment theorist, describing attachment as a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings."

 

 Bowlby was interested in understanding the separation anxiety and distress that children experience when separated from their primary caregivers.

 

Some of the earliest behavioral theories suggested that attachment was simply a learned behavior. These theories proposed that attachment was merely the result of the feeding relationship between the child and the caregiver. Because the caregiver feeds the child and provides nourishment, the child becomes attached.
 

What Bowlby observed is that even feedings did not diminish the anxiety experienced by children when they were separated from their primary caregivers. Instead, he found that attachment was characterized by clear behavioral and motivation patterns. When children are frightened, they will seek proximity from their primary caregiver in order to receive both comfort and care.

Understanding Attachment

Attachment is an emotional bond with another person. Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. He suggested that attachment also serves to keep the infant close to the mother, thus improving the child's chances of survival.

Bowlby viewed attachment as a product of evolutionary processes.While the behavioral theories of attachment suggested that attachment was a learned process, Bowlby and others proposed that children are born with an innate drive to form attachments with caregivers.

 

Throughout history, children who maintained proximity to an attachment figure were more likely to receive comfort and protection, and therefore more likely to survive to adulthood. Through the process of natural selection, a motivational system designed to regulate attachment emerged.

 

So what determines successful attachment? Behaviorists suggest that it was food that led to forming this attachment behavior, but Bowlby and others demonstrated that nurturance and responsiveness were the primary determinants of attachment.

The Theme of Attachment Theory

 

 

The central theme of attachment theory is that primary caregivers who are available and responsive to an infant's needs allow the child to develop a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world.

Factors That Influence Attachment

While this process may seem straightforward, there are some factors that can influence how and when attachments develop, including:

 
  • Opportunity for attachment: Children who do not have a primary care figure, such as those raised in orphanages, may fail to develop the sense of trust needed to form an attachment.

 

  • Quality caregiving: When caregivers respond quickly and consistently, children learn that they can depend on the people who are responsible for their care, which is the essential foundation for attachment. This is a vital factor.

Patterns of Attachment

There are four patterns of attachment, including:

 
  • Ambivalent attachment: These children become very distressed when a parent leaves. Ambivalent attachment style is considered uncommon, affecting an estimated 7–15% of U.S. children. As a result of poor parental availability, these children cannot depend on their primary caregiver to be there when they need them.

 

  • Avoidant attachment: Children with an avoidant attachment tend to avoid parents or caregivers, showing no preference between a caregiver and a complete stranger. This attachment style might be a result of abusive or neglectful caregivers. Children who are punished for relying on a caregiver will learn to avoid seeking help in the future.

 

  • Disorganized attachment: These children display a confusing mix of behavior, seeming disoriented, dazed, or confused. They may avoid or resist the parent. Lack of a clear attachment pattern is likely linked to inconsistent caregiver behavior. In such cases, parents may serve as both a source of comfort and fear, leading to disorganized behavior.

 

  • Secure attachment: Children who can depend on their caregivers show distress when separated and joy when reunited. Although the child may be upset, they feel assured that the caregiver will return. When frightened, securely attached children are comfortable seeking reassurance from caregivers.

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