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Monday, August 2, 2010

Part II: A Series on Attachment Theory, a summary of A Secure Base

As part of my (personal) study on attachment, I am reviewing the book, A Secure Base, by John Bowlby. Bowlby was the premier researcher on attachment theory. His research spanned approximately five decades. His work is the basis for the parenting style, Attachment Parenting. This post is a summary of the second half of chapter one.

(The second half of) Chapter One, a summary of A Secure Base:

We have made dramatic advances in our knowledge of the importance of early interaction between mother and child. The famous studies of Klaus and Kennell observe how mothers interact with their newborns when allowed to proceed naturally. Immediately after birth, mothers tend to hold her child close, stroking the baby's face, and touching the baby's body with her hands and palm. Within a few minutes, she will  put the baby to her breast. Mother's tend to be in a state of ecstasy and observers also tend to become elated simply by watching them. Mother's often spend the next few days cuddling her baby and she will typically have a moment when she feels the baby is her very own, usually within moments after birth, but this feeling can be delayed by as much as a week for some (typically a minority).

Within the first few weeks, the mother and her child will alternate between lively interaction and phases of disengagement. The sensitive mother will adjust her behavior according to her child's movements, creating a dialogue that fits the baby's pace. The baby also joins in spontaneously, responding to the mother. These behaviors show that the mother and child are developing a partnership. During feeding time, the same type of pace develops. During heavy suckling, the mother is generally silent, but will engage with her child during pauses at the breast.

As the child ages, and begins to play with toys, the relationship continues, with mother following the baby's lead. When a child shows interest in a toy, the mother will follow suit, commenting on the toy, naming it, playing with it, thereby promoting a shared experience.

In another example, pre-verbal vocal exchange shows the ability to take turns and avoid overlapping within very young infants and continues as they age up to age 2. The evidence shows that the mother's interaction plays a major part as the leader in smooth transitions between speakers.

Most of this stuff seems like common sense. But the next part is pretty exciting. It says, essentially, that how we treat babies sets the stage for their personalities and how they treat us, as they age. It's one piece of evidence that proves, in my mind, that attachment parenting advocates aren't a bunch of wackos, like we are portrayed in the media.

Bowlby says that what has emerged from all these studies is the evidence that by responding with sensitivity (a principle of API) the mother has already begun to enlist the cooperation of her child. Babies are pre-programmed to be socially adaptable, but (and here's the BIG but) "whether they do so or not turns in high degree on how they are treated." Of course, this finding means that the way mainstream parenting has been taught for centuries is wrong on many counts, additionally, it means that the role of the parents must change dramatically in order to instill a solid attachment.

The role of each parent is typically that of the mother being the primary attachment figure and the father being more of a playmate. However, the child can be firmly attached to both parents if both parents make the effort to fill the role of attachment figure. In several studies, the findings showed that the approach to new people and new tasks were based on confidence and security. The children studied were graded on levels of confidence and security. The children who graded highest on confidence and security were attached to both parents. The next down were children who were only attached to one parent. And the children with the lowest confidence and security were attached to neither parent.

In providing a secure base, (the basic premise of Bowlby's entire work) the role of the parent must be similar to that of an officer at a military base where one can retreat in the event of a setback. (Bowlby's analogy, not mine.) Basically, the parent must BE the base. The place where the child can go to be welcomed, nourished, both physically and emotionally, and helped out, but only if actively needed.

Bowlby goes to say that unless a parent has an intuitive understanding of their child's attachment behavior, they will not be able to provide the secure base. Attachment behavior is often seen as dependency and the mainstream dubbing dependency as regressive is not only incorrect, but an "appalling misjudgment."

There are certain conditions that foster satisfying relationships between parent and child. One condition that fosters a mutually satisfied relationship is an atmosphere where the mother (or main attachment figure) is supported so that she (or he) can focus solely on the child. Another condition is the support a woman receives during her labor. Women who had another female figure with her during labor were shown to have labors lasting half as long as women who were left to labor alone. An easier and supported labor provides better conditions for a mother to bond with her baby for a longer period after labor, thereby giving a good start to a healthy lifelong bond.

The influence of the mother's own mother also influences the relationship between the mother and her new child. Children whose mothers responded with sensitivity to them, were more likely to respond with sensitivity to their own children.

Further studies show that women whose families were disrupted before age 11interact less with their newborns.

Parents who come from physically abusive families were more likely to have a number of parenting problems, such as becoming batterers themselves or have negative views about parenting. One of the most disturbing trends among mothers who had been abused was the tendency to expect their children to care for them, thus inverting the relationship. Children who come from homes where the mother inverts the relationship experience such psychological problems as school refusal, agoraphobia and depression.

Bowlby recommends one way to stop these abusive trends is to set up programs where new parents can observe first-hand how to parent with sensitivity.

That's the end of chapter one. I think I'm totally addicted to this book and I can't wait to delve into it further. I will start on chapter two next Monday.

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