Post No.: 0311
In child psychology, there are 4 general child-parent attachment styles that attempt to categorise how children respond to their caregivers when they’re hurt, separated or when they perceive a threat.
Secure – the child is secure, explorative and happy. He/she believes and trusts that his/her needs will be met due to a quick, sensitive and consistent main caregiver. This will likely lead to an adult who is able to create meaningful, empathic and appropriate relationships. Most children are secure types.
Anxious-ambivalent – the child is anxious, insecure and angry. He/she cannot rely on his/her needs being met due to an inconsistent main caregiver. There is separation anxiety when he/she is separated from the caregiver and he/she does not feel reassured even when the caregiver returns. This will likely lead to an adult who is anxious, insecure, controlling, erratic but sometimes charming.
Anxious-avoidant – the child is not very explorative and is emotionally disinterested. He/she believes that his/her needs probably won’t be met due to a distant and disengaged main caregiver so avoids him/her. This will likely lead to an adult who tends to avoid closeness or emotional connections.
Disorganised – the child is despondent, angry and non-responsive. He/she is severely confused with no clear strategy to have his/her needs met due to an extremely erratic, frightened or frightening main caregiver. This will likely lead to an adult who can be chaotic, insensitive, explosive, abusive and untrusting, even though he/she may crave security.
For the sake of completion, related are the 4 general intimate relationship attachment styles that attempt to categorise how adults respond to their partners in intimate relationships.
Secure – the person is comfortable with intimacy and autonomy. He/she wants an interdependent relationship yet is self-sufficient.
Preoccupied – the person is preoccupied with relationships. He/she is overly clingy, dependent and constantly seeks reassurance.
Dismissive – the person is dismissive of intimacy and is strongly independent. He/she doesn’t want anyone to get too close to him/her.
Fearful – the person is fearful of intimacy and is socially avoidant. He/she cannot easily trust others and is very withdrawn.
Securely attached infants, who feel connected and secure with their parents or main caregivers in ways that allow them to feel safe to go out and explore, tend to do better socially later in life than insecurely attached (any of the other types of attachment) infants, who feel either anxious to leave their parents or can feel that the relationship isn’t warm and supportive even when physically around their parents. Parenting for a secure attachment appears to involve providing comfort when needed and offering the freedom to explore when desired. It seems to be about support without mollycoddling, and independence without neglect.
Paternal/maternal sensitivity is the main caregiver’s (which statistically is usually the mother’s) response, or lack of response, to his/her child’s distress when the child is with a stranger or has been separated from the caregiver temporarily. A non-secure attachment type along with a dismissive main caregiver sensitivity correlates with poorer social and cognitive outcomes for a child later in life. A secure attachment type along with responsive parents correlates with the best furry outcomes in general.
Note that a causal conclusion is hard to concretely say for sure with current research. It could be that social and cognitive deficits in infancy cause an insecure attachment and a decreased paternal/maternal sensitivity, and this in turn later leads to poorer social and cognitive outcomes for a child later in life? We know how the innate behaviour of a child can affect a parent’s own parenting style towards that child (e.g. a parent could behave more anxiously towards a naturally anxious child and more securely towards a naturally secure child), so it’s not just how we initially treat our children but how they initially seem or how they initially treat us that affects how we parent them.
So children can bi-directionally affect the behaviour of their parents. How a child’s behaviour is (e.g. calm, excitable or cautious) will affect how any adults will treat him/her, which will likely reinforce their behaviour. For example, adults could notice that a cautious child is afraid of surprises and then learn to never present surprises to that child again. (Yet what if these adults instead persisted with (gently at first) trying to surprise this child to potentially make this child become more comfortable with surprises over time?)
Of course, whatever the case, the parents should be the bigger people and are ultimately the ones responsible for bringing a new life into the world in the first place, hence are still responsible for their own child’s behaviour to a large degree. If a child’s behaviour is primarily genetic rather than down to his/her parents’ parenting methods – remember that the biological parents provided these genes too! Thus whether a behaviour has a primarily biological cause or parenting-method (or lack of a method) cause, the parents are still meaningfully responsible for it.
Environmental influences from outside of the family are much harder to control, but parents still somewhat choose for their own children which school they go to, whether they voluntarily defer parenting duties onto someone else such as a nanny, what and how much media they are exposed to, and so forth. Parents can sometimes behave like ‘elder dictators or supremacists’, who have the power over their children hence think they’re always right and their children are to blame for anything that goes wrong! But very few couples, in the ‘developed’ world at least, are forcibly coerced to have children – it’s the parents’ choice, and people should bear the responsibility of their own choices (or ‘accidents’). Thus whatever the case, it will not be down to the child’s fault from a logical parent’s perspective.
This is not to put stress on parents or to dissuade people from ever becoming parents in the first place, or whatever one has done in the past is now in the past. Luck plays a huge role in life so even parents shouldn’t be too hard on themselves; and one could possibly blame one’s own parents and so forth! The point I’m trying to make is that parents should never be so hard on their own children, such as blaming, lashing out at, abusing, neglecting or giving up on their children if they’re unhappy with how they’re behaving or turning out.
To be on the safe side (and why wouldn’t you be in this particular context?) if the relationship between parenting style and attachment style is causal – how you respond to your child’s needs and distresses can affect how they in the future generalise and interpret their and other people’s mental states (e.g. their intentions, motivations and emotions). Without proper attachment (e.g. due to neglect or abuse), they may fail to adaptively regulate their emotional states and it’ll affect whether and how they may admit to the impact of their mental states and seek help for or internalise psychosocial adversities in the future. We learn about ourselves through being understood by other people – so children learn about their feelings by having their feelings understood by someone else (hopefully by caring people).
Generally in any context, children will read your body language and vocal tone and feel safe and secure or stressed and worried according to how you tend to feel and behave (e.g. if you don’t act frightened with spiders then neither will your child). It’s the same with pets like dogs (e.g. if you have a dog and you tense up whenever another dog comes close then your dog will sense that tension and act insecurely, and see the other dog as a threat and treat it accordingly so – woof woof!)
Babies innately respond to faces (or anything that resembles a face) and will generally try to get the attention of the people around them on them. One of the best ways to get a baby to laugh is via a game of peek-a-boo because of the surprise of suddenly seeing a face. Humans are born to be social, and rather than too much attention for a baby leading to a dysfunctional baby – too little attention for a baby leads to a dysfunctional baby.
Therefore according to attachment theory, ‘tough love’ isn’t effective – at least for young children. Post No.: 0091 stressed that a child’s early years is a most critical time for their development, and healthy emotional and social development relies on a child learning that his/her caregivers will meet his/her needs for comfort and security. When a child learns and feels that he/she can rely on his/her caregivers then he/she will become more confident in exploring his/her world and being independent later in life. When children feel that they have a ‘secure base’ that they can depend upon, they will exhibit greater independence and psychological well-being, both as children and when as adults, and they will more likely have more functional than dysfunctional relationships of all kinds when older.
It’s like one will tend to feel more confident in taking risks to start a business venture or other exploration if one knows that someone has got one’s back if one ever needs them. You may, for instance, have only $10 in your entire personal possession right now but if you have a strong support network, such as (wealthy enough and) loving parents behind you, then it’s very different to not having them there just in case, at least psychologically. Worthwhile risks, such as committing to further education, will seem less risky and therefore you can take more opportunities. The lonely and desperate may indeed be forcefully pushed into taking risks but they may be pushed into taking terrible risks, such as a life of crime, and perhaps their support network might become a gang?
Now helping a child in this context doesn’t mean doing things for them (like a mentor doesn’t do the work for his/her apprentice). Self-efficacy is important, yet this doesn’t mean going alone. Autonomy is not the same as independence. Supportive parents, who make a child feel safe, secure and loved even if they fail, will also raise resilient children who aren’t afraid of failure. So, although it may seem counterintuitive – we help foster independence by accepting a person’s dependence.