John Bowlby, born in London February 27th 1907 was a psychoanalyst who researched the effects of separation on children from their primary caregiver in the early years of life. He emphasised the importance of the bond established by infants and their primary carer- which is usually their mother. Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds with their caregiver have a profound impact that continues throughout life and is the basis of relationships. According to Bowlby attachment also serves a means of survival as it keeps the infant close to the mother thus the chance of survival increases.
Lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Bowlby, 1969, p. 194). Bowlby also claims that a person’s suture mental health depends on the successful establishment of attachment in the first few months of life. Maternal attachment is vital to a healthy mental development, just like a balanced nutritious diet is to a healthy physical development. Bowlby’s theory described when infants are separated from their primary carers the effect of separation is evident from when the infants reaches 5-6 months.
When separated from their caregiver the child becomes anxious and distressed, Bowlby describes this as ‘maternal deprivation’. When separation is prolonged to the first 2 to 5 years of life the child will encounter separation anxiety followed by the feeling of loss and grief. Initially the child will protest and cry and as the period of separation continues despair and withdrawal will set in and eventually the child will become detached from relationships with people. In 1944 Bowlby conducted an experiment named the ’44 Juvenile Thieves’.
The aim of this was to determine whether maternal deprivation and adolescent delinquency are associated. He studied a group of 44 juvenile thieves who were at a child guidance clinic and compared them with a group of 44 adolescents who were emotionally disturbed but didn’t steal. He found that fourteen of the thieves were classed as affectionless compared to none of that in the emotionally disturbed group. Seventeen of the thieves had been separated from their mothers for more than a period of six months before they were the age of five compared with only two who had been separated from their mothers in the emotionally disturbed group.
Bowlby concluded that maternal deprivation in infancy and criminal behaviour in adolescence were associated, this suggests that this a topic which is worth further study. However Bowlby doesn’t seem to have considered the other possibilities for the cause of the criminal behaviour, for example the circumstances of the initial separation. Bowlby’s theories have been widely researched and studied by other researchers. Michael Rutter found that conflict in the home was as important as a factor in disturbed behaviour patterns in children and young people as much as maternal deprivation is.
He considered that maternal deprivation is more than likely the result of other contributing factors such as divorce which follows up from separation. Bowlby has been criticised for his specific focus on a baby’s relationship with the mother and he ignored the possibility that children could develop a number of attachments and the importance of the other relationships. Other researchers have found that children who have been deprived of their mothers attachment can develop extremely strong attachments to other, for example siblings.
Schaffer and Emerson studied a group of 60 babies over a period of 18 months in Glasgow. From this study they found that the infants formed multiple attachments and that the primary attachment was not always the one with the person with whom the child spent the majority of their time with. Mary Ainsworth studied how secure the attachments between the mother and child were. She found that it was not the quantity of time spent together, what Bowlby believed, but the quality of time spent together which would decide the primary attachment.
Bowlby has been extremely influential in practice. For example the Key Person approach. ‘a way of working in nurseries in which the whole focus and organisation is aimed at enabling and supporting close attachments between individual children and individual nursery staff’ (Elfer, Goldschmeid and Selleck, p. 18). A Key Person is a nursery practitioner who will be held responsible for a small group of children whilst in that setting. Before a child is due to start at the nursery setting the Key Person will meet the child and their parents wither in the nursery setting or at home.
This is to plan a suitable settling in programmer. During this meeting they will learn small facts about the child, for example who is in their family, what they like doing and other minor details. The Key Person is the one who greets the child at the start of nursery session supporting the child and parent as they say goodbye to one another. By being in this situation the Key Person gives the child and mother a sense of security by reassuring both that will be okay.
The Key Person is also present at the end of the nursery session when the parent and child are reunited. During the end of session is when the Key person and the parent have the opportunity to discuss and the child’s day and to provide a link between the nursery and the setting. The transition from nursery to Primary 1 is much the same, during the summer before they are due to start p1 the key worker usually hands out homework bags to get the child used to doing regular homework so that come p1 it is not a complete shock for them.
Induction days are held for nursery children to go into the p1 class which they would be going into. During this day they get to experience what p1 is like, they work in little groups playing and also have a story read to them. In some schools they have the opportunity to meet the p6/7s who will be their buddies when the start school. Parents are also invited to stay for a period of time so they know exactly what their child will be doing, this eases the anxiety of the parents therefore easing the child’s to a certain extent.
Courtney from Study Moose
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