Originally attachment theory has been based upon and is greatly influenced by psychoanalytic theorists e. g. Freud. Attachment theorists especially Bowlby (1969) agree with psychoanalytic tradition that the attachment bond between mother and child forms the basis of all relationships in later years of life. Erik Erikson suggests that the child’s early experiences will determine how he /she will be able to attach to other people. He further notes that some people work on this problem all their lives if they have not engaged successfully as a child.
He states that they will become rigid in their efforts to find optimum distance and their relationships will either become too close (symbiotic) or too distant (ambivalent) Although attachment appears to be an inherited disposition, infants do not have a natural inclination to become attached to any one specific adult. Rather, the baby becomes attached through ‘learning’. It is the primary caregiver of the child who is the object of attachment, which is usually the mother.
However attachments with other adults, especially fathers has been increasingly researched and deemed extremely important.
Birch, A (1997) identifies that research, which has been carried out in a number of societies has shown that fathers are just as capable of performing the parenting role, as are mothers. Other research detected few differences in signs of attachment with both parents. (Lamb 1977 as cited in Birch, A. 1997). Grandparents have also have recently been viewed as having positive influences in attachments. They can considerably influence the behaviour of their grandchildren and provide emotional support especially when a child is in conflict with their parents.
There are many behaviours that are evident in children that indicate that attachment has been formed. An example of this includes a child moving close and staying close to the attachment figure, particularly when the child is afraid. Young children will cry and even cling to their attachment figure if they feel threat of separation. Other conditions, which activate these sorts of attachment behaviours, include strangeness, fatigue, and unresponsiveness of attachment figure.
They do not exist however in a familiar environment for example but termination of attachment behaviours may require touching or clinging etc. (Bowlby, J. 1981). The greater the threat of separation the greater and the more intense are the actions elicited to prevent it occurring. This has become known as the stage of protest and involves great amounts of stress and emotional distress. If these behaviours are successful in prohibiting the separation, the bond is restored and the distress becomes alleviated. However if they are unsuccessful the efforts diminish but do not usually disappear.
Usually after periods of time the urge to search for the attachment figure return and behaviours reappear. Bowlby (1981) comments that, “the condition of the organism is then one of chronic stress and is experienced as one of chronic distress. ” Research into attachment behaviour in babies carried out by Mary Ainsworth and her colleagues (1967, 1974) hypothesised that in an effective attachment relationship the child would use the mother as a base to explore from, would be distressed by her absence and would seek closeness on her return.
(Birch, A. 1997). This concept of using the mother as a base was developed by Bowlby, J (1969) who formed the opinion that the attachment figure provides a secure base which is needed for a child to operate. The stability of security will establish social confidence, lack of behaviour problems, greater autonomy, interpersonal competence and enables eagerness to learn and problem solve. Maternal deprivation is the term coined to describe the effects of a child being separated from its attachment figure in the prime stages of development.
This was primarily proposed by John Bowlby in 1951 who believed that if a child was deprived of the opportunity to form an attachment during the early years of life then social, emotional and/or intellectual problems would develop later in life. Bowlby also suggested that it could lead to conditions such as depression, bed-wetting and even dwarfism. (Birch, A. 1997). Rutter, M (1972, 1981) supported Bowlby’s position that disruption of early child care could have adverse effects on psychological development. However he disagreed and contested Bowlby’s concept of maternal deprivation.
He stressed the effects of maternal deprivation were more likely to be due to the lack of something (privation) rather than any kind of loss (deprivation). Rutter M. believed that the crucial factor in determining the adverse effects of psychological development was what happened before and after the separation. His more plausible explanation attributed children’s problems to family discord, loneliness, and changes in discipline and the changed circumstance of the residential parent e. g. the lower income or having to go out to work.
Despite the debate on the actual causes, either the separation itself or other factors surrounding it all researchers agree that children are seriously affected in their psychological development and more often than not will continue into adulthood with serious problems. This could and does lead to a vicious cycle that is affecting many families. The concepts of ‘attachment’, ‘loss’, ‘separation’ and ‘change’ are very important for understanding lifelong human development and is a crucial component for social work.
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