The Importance of Early Attachment

According to a large number of psychoanalytical theorists, an individual’s initial relationship is the template that helps construct the attachment style of safety in relationships and enduring emotional closeness (Bowlby, 2005).  A child’s first attachment is considered to be the maternal bond, which is usually formed with the biological mother.  The attachment process begins during infancy and it helps children grow intellectually, manage feelings, think logically and coherently, acquire a conscience, become self-sufficient, form coping mechanisms, (for stress, frustration, fear, and worry), and develop healthy and close relationships (R. Bowlby, 2008).  Every human being, requires attachment, but for children, a strong attachment fosters independence, which is an essential component of human growth and development (R. Bowlby, 2008). 

According to R. Bowlby (2008) infants and toddlers have a formidable survival reaction to perceive danger whenever they are in an unfamiliar place and do not have access to their primary attachment figure.  This sense of danger can frighten children and it might also trigger their attachment seeking response.  The attachment seeking response terminates only when the child is able to safely reach vicinity to an attachment figure, an adult who can provide support, protection, and care (R. Bowlby, 2008).  The attachment seeking response begins around 6 months of age and it peaks between the ages of 12 and 24 months.  By 36 months of age, the intensity moderates, and most children can now endure a few hours of disjunction from their mother without severe distress (R. Bowlby, 2008). 

Early attachment in children can result in lifelong implications that foster healthy personal, social, and professional relationships.  A secure attachment develops when the mother is sensitive and attuned to the child’s communications, and consistently provides predictable care which meets the needs of the child promptly and reliably (Green, 2013).  An insecure attachment is prone to develop when the mother is unresponsive and not accommodating to the child’s communications, and when care for the child is inconsistent, unpredictable, and does not satisfy the child’s needs (Green, 2013).

According to Zucker (2014), a consequence of early attachment between mother and child is, that infants adopt and concretize that which they are exposed to early in life, incorporating formations of the self.  For example, if a child views his or her mother as frightening, the child might expect that other people in society will be unsafe and unpredictable as well.  The lack of an original safe base for a child can result in a fearful expectation of the world in general, because the biological mother is the child’s first connection to the world (Cori, 2010).  Without the presence of a secure, reliable, and safe attachment figure, a child could have difficulty making sense of him or herself, which could result in the development of problematic affect regulation and reflective functioning capacity (Zucker, 2014).  Cori (2010) reported that “attachment for a child provides the feeling that I belong to you, and because I belong to you, I have a place in this world.  Without this feeling, individuals are untethered, left adrift well into their adult years” (p.76).  Thus, the lack of safe maternal attachment in childhood is a foremost risk factor for impending problems progressing in later adulthood.

The attachment of mother and child has an effect on children’s physical, psychological, behavioral, and developmental wellbeing (Rees, 2007).  Maternal attachment is extremely important and should be considered when faced with complications during infancy, such as behavioral problems, excessive crying, feeding difficulties, failure to thrive, lack of eye contact, toileting issues, frequent accidents, infections, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Green, 2013).  In issues of child protection and substitute care, childhood maternal attachment should be a major focus of investigation.  Inadequate maternal attachment poses a tremendous burden on individuals, society, and on public services (Rees, 2007). 

Attachment theory suggests that insecure maternal attachment in childhood can result in an inability in adulthood, to maintain strong and secure bonds of attachment with children, friends, and relationships (Green, 2013).  This disconnection or lack of attachment may be the impetus for a number of unhealthy and self-destructive behaviors, including abuse of drugs and/or alcohol (Lackings, 2012).  Attachment theory also postulates that when a child has insecure maternal attachment, this can later create an operational framework where the child grows into adulthood unable to appropriately manage person-to-person relationships (Lackings, 2012).  According to Flores (2013), individuals who are avoidant about relationships might have a propensity for developing SUDs and that same attachment disorder can also lead them to shun therapy or treatment even when supportive services might be necessary or readily available.  

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