We Are Survivors 

This blog is dedicated to the tens of millions of adult survivors of child abuse and neglect who get up every day and try to work and function in a world that seems to not care about us.

Attachment and Children’s Mental Health

Attachment is important. It is the base upon which the emotional health, social relationships, and one’s worldview are built. The shift to trust and form relationships will affect the emotional health, security, and safety of the child, as well as the child’s development and future relationships. I wrote about how this affects adult survivors in another blog: Adult Survivors' Attachment Styles

Normal attachment develops during the child’s first two years of life. Problems with the parent-child relationship during this time, or breaks in the consistent caregiver-child relationship, prevent attachment from developing normally. A wide range of attachment problems may result in varying degrees of emotional disturbances in the child.

The severity of this attachment seems to result from the number of breaks in the bonding cycle and the extent of the child’s emotional vulnerability and their resiliency. Therefore, interventions that attempt to promote high-quality caregiver-child relations and secure attachment patterns are effective in enhancing the resiliency of vulnerable children. Because attachment lies at the root of many emotional and mental disturbances, it is important to understand its significance.1

Resilience: An individual’s competence and successful adaptation or “bounce back” following exposure to significant adversity and stressful life events. Vulnerability is the susceptibility to negative developmental outcomes under high-risk conditions.

Risk and Protective Factors: Conditions that increase (risk factors) or decrease (protective factors) the likelihood that an individual or a family will later develop problems. Studies of resiliency in children have consistently found the most basic and important protective factor is a history of caregiver-child attachments.

A child’s emotional vulnerability can be affected by a variety of factors including generic factors: prenatal nutrition and stress; temperament; and birth parent history of mental illness, such as schizophrenia or manic depressive illness, for example. If an infant’s needs are not met consistently in a loving, nurturing way, attachment will not occur normally.

Each stage in a child’s life makes unique demands on the caregiver, and each stage brings with it a set of specific developmental needs and vulnerabilities. Because children are a part of a changing and developing system that includes their parents, caregivers, community members, extended families, and so on, they get into increasingly complex experiential realms as they grow and mature, and each of their reactions to a new experience is informed by those that have come before. For a young child whose attachments to significant adults are in a crucial stage of development, an abusive experience will have far different effects on him or her and on the family than will a similar incident when the child is ten or a teenager or a young adult.

1 “The First Three Years and Beyond” Brain Development and Social Policy, 2002

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