Module 3 Understanding the Science of Attachment
Module 3 Learning Objectives Participants will: Understand how and when attachment occurs Understand the importance of physical contact in creating and sustaining attachments Understand the “continuum” of attachment and how the attachment relationship changes as the child develops Understand how disrupted attachments impact the developing child Understand the stages of “loss and grief” Learn about what security looks like for both child and caregiver
Relationships matter Attachment is a process Relationships develop overtime Relationships buffer stress Disrupted relationships are painful Children experience loss and grief even at very young ages What does this mean for child welfare?
Babies and their caregivers are “hardwired” to attach Oxytocin is released during labor, passage through the birth canal, through skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding. Oxytocin, a chemical reaction in the brain, is often called the “bonding” hormone because it: Creates a sense of calm and well-being Promotes bonding Increases desire for proximity and further contact by baby and for parents, creates a sense of caring, an eagerness to please and the ability to read baby’s cues Reduces babies’ stress and crying
A father’s bond Toward the end of pregnancy, a father’s testosterone level decreases while oxytocin levels increase and continue to be elevated (if they live with mother and baby) Similar to mothers who breastfeed, fathers who bottle feed also release oxytocin just by holding their baby as they feed or by performing other nurturing acts
Video: The First Years Last Forever (minute 1:47-3:00)
Attachment is a process A baby’s first years of life are almost entirely about building trust and security Through experiences with caregivers, a baby develops expectations about the dependability of attachment figures to provide comfort, support, nurturance and protection in times of need
Recognition/ Familiarity Familiarity/ Comfort Comfort/ Pleasure Pleasure/ Reliance Reliance/ Preference Used with author’s permission. From: Zeanah, C.H. & Smyke, A.T. (2009). Disorders of attachment. In C.H. Zeanah (Ed.), Handbook of infant mental health, 3rd Edition, (pp.421-434). New York, Guilford Press. It’s not just attached or not attached
Young children need physical contact to create and sustain attachments
Development of attachment 0-7 months Social with all Preferences limited to voice and smell May have more comfort with same caregiver 7-12 months Preferences appear Stranger anxiety Separation protests appear Hierarchy of preferred caregivers 12-24 months Attachment figure becomes secure base Proximity promotes security Returns to attachment figure, if distressed 24-35 months Balance between autonomy and dependence
The Developing Relationship Parent Recognizes signals and responds appropriately Maintains protective closeness Nurtures Child Cries to signal need Biologic preference for parents Birth-3 Months
The Developing Relationship Parent Falls in love with the baby Provides comfort to child Child Smiles; social with everyone Calms when comforted Comfortable with same caregiver 3-7 Months
The Developing Relationship Parent Welcomes baby back and celebrates accomplishments Respects baby’s fears and need for closeness Child Uses parent as secure base for exploration Experiences stranger or separation anxiety 8-12 Months
The Developing Relationship Parent Encourages exploration and applauds efforts Interprets new or unfamiliar situations with reassurance Proximity promotes security Child Explores his or her world Seeks parent support at times of uncertainty Hierarchy of preferred caregivers 13-18 Months
The Developing Relationship Parent Provides opportunities to choose Sets appropriate limits Assists child in coping with range of emotions Supports new friendships and experiences Child Autonomy vs. dependence Balances wants/needs with caregiver’s desires Expands social circle 19-36 Months
How does nurturing care build attachments? Caregiver Emotional availability Warmth, empathy and nurturance Provision of comfort Protection Structure and routines Child Emotion regulation Security and interpersonal trust Comfort seeking Vigilance and self- protection Self-regulation
Video: First Person: Impressions of Being a Baby. Child Development Media (minutes 2:25-4:16) www.childdevelopmentmedia.com
Nurturing relationships can buffer stress and help coping Tolerable stress is a physiological state that could potentially disrupt brain architecture (e.g., through cortisol-induced disruption of neural circuits or neuronal death in the hippocampus) but is buffered by supportive relationships that facilitate coping.
Disrupted relationships are painful The absence of a protective relationship: Creates toxic stress that disrupts brain architecture Affects other organ systems Reduces thresholds for stress management Not having an attachment figure to help with stress of separation is a double whammy. Journal of American Medical Association, June 3, 2009, 301, 21, 2255.
Video: Young Children in Brief Separation: John, 17 months, Nine Days in a Residential Nursery. Source: Robertson, James and Joyce (Producers). Young Children in Brief Separation: John, 17 months, Nine Days in a Residential Nursery. For more information visit: http://www.robertsonfilms.info/http://www.robertsonfilms.info/
Clip #1: minutes 14:40-18:15 In this first video clip we see John. John is now in his second day of staying at the nursery and it is beginning to take a toll on his behavior. He’s clearly unhappy and trying to figure out how to comfort himself and seek comfort from others. The day before, on the first day, he was a quiet yet curious little boy who was secure with being left there initially. After a day he is no longer okay with his situation.
Clip #2: minutes 23:32-27:39 John is now on day 6 of being at the nursery. The researcher reports that he cries almost nonstop and is refusing to eat. He has a bright moment when his father comes to visit but then is rejected again when his father leaves.
Clip #3: minutes 30:47-32:30 It is now day 8 of John’s stay at the nursery and he is apathetic and sad. John barely interacts with anyone except when looking for comfort from the adults.
Clip #4: minutes 36:55-40:54 John’s last day at the nursery. His mother will be coming to get him today. How do you predict he will react when he sees his mother? Did John’s reaction to his mother surprise you? We will be talking more about what happens to children when they experience loss and grief.
Stages of Loss and Grief Stage 1: Disorganization The initial expressions of grief in children range from regression, temper tantrums and exaggerated fears in younger children to physical symptoms, lack of concentration and mood swings in older children. Keith, K. L. Grief and children. Retrieved November 2, 2005. http://childparenting.about.com/cs/emotionalhealth/a/childgrief_4.htm
Stage 2: Transition Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and despair follow the stress and chaotic behaviors of the disorganization stage: –Many children will exhibit true depression –Common symptoms are withdrawal, aggression and giving up in school. Keith, K. L. Grief and children. Retrieved November 2, 2005. http://childparenting.about.com/cs/emotionalhealth/a/childgrief_4.htm Stages of Loss and Grief
Stage 3: Reorganization During this stage, children have more energy and motivation for moving forward to a positive resolution of their grief. A reminder of the loss can flood the child back to feelings of despair and great sorrow. Keith, K. L. Grief and children. Retrieved November 2, 2005. http://childparenting.about.com/cs/emotionalhealth/a/childgrief_4.htm Stages of Loss and Grief
How preschoolers express grief: Bedwetting Thumb sucking Clinging to adults Exaggerated fears Excessive crying Temper tantrums Regression Stubbornness Unexplained or sudden changes in behavior Keith, K. L. Grief and children. Retrieved November 2, 2005. http://childparenting.about.com/cs/emotionalhealth/a/childgrief_4.htm
What could have helped John? What could John’s parents have done to prepare him for separation? What could have helped John feel less abandoned? How could you tell John was “falling apart?” How did the father’s visits impact John? How did all the different caregivers affect John’s need for comfort? What were the early signs of stress and indications that John was not doing well? What do you think could be done now to heal John? What could you suggest to John’s parents to help him when he gets home?
Providing children with a sense of security is critical to their development
Secure Babies A healthy, secure attachment generally means the child has been supported in: Learning coping skills Helping to adapt to changes Learning to contain and soothe distress Learning to self-regulate his or her emotions and behaviors Healthy Attachment for Very Young Children in Foster Care by JoAnne Solchany and Lisa Pilnik, p. 87, Vol 27, No 6, Aug 2008. www.childlawpractice.org www.childlawpractice.org
Helping parents develop a sense of security with their children
Behaviors of secure caregivers Warm and sensitively attuned Consistent Responds quickly to baby’s cries Strong at repair
What does all this mean for child welfare? Support and promote nurturing and stable relationships in the life of the child. Provide in-home supports to prevent removal in the first place Don’t move children to different homes, childcare or schools at critical developmental periods Make the first placement the only placement Ensure frequent and meaningful visitation Concurrent planning for reunification and permanency
Summary of Attachment Infants are strongly biologically predisposed to attach to caregivers Adults are strongly biologically predisposed to attach to babies Once babies reach a cognitive age of 7-9 months, their attachments begin to consolidate and focus on specific individuals Attachment is a process which develops over the first several years of life based upon nurturing experiences with caregivers Attachments may be different with different caregivers
Activity In your small group or with your partner, using the “Carly” case study, discuss the following questions: 1)What kind of attachment do you believe Carly has to her birth mother, foster parent, others? Where might this attachment “fall” on the continuum? 2)What does Carly need in order to have a more secure attachment with her birth mother, foster parents, others? 3)What considerations should there be when recommending a parenting class for Carly’s birth mother?