Attachment Theories: Are Early Attachments Really Necessary?

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Attachment theory concerns the psychological, evolutionary and ethological ideas that help us understand relationships between people. Theorists believe that a child has a need to form attachments with an adult care giver to ensure adequate growth and social and emotional development. This ‘bond’ has to be maintained by the care giver and mostly uninterrupted to ensure a child grows into a happy and confident, adapted adult.

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory has heavily influenced research into attachment, underpinning the importance of the mother/child bond on future child development. Bowlby (1969) and others recognised this in their research and results, but some found it did not specifically have to be the mother- a general loving care
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As the child is now mobile we can see the attachment. The child will begin to use the caregiver as a safe base from which to explore. Only when a separation is continued for a period of time, a baby’s reaction will turn from upset to angry. Bowlby, 1973, 1980, called this the ‘protest’ stage. Next, a child will become slightly depressed (the despair stage) until eventually seeming to overcome the separation and becoming responsive again. (the stage of detachment) this was not necessarily a recovery, but possibly a repression of feelings towards the caregiver. Many factors in a separation seem to come into play when determining the fate of the child’s wellbeing going into adulthood after detachment. A lack of appropriate attachment forming in a child can lead to ‘reactive attachment disorder’.

Bowlby’s Ideas

John Bowlby was a child psychiatrist researching theories on attachment. Bowlby studies many children and their reactions to separation from their attachment (usually the mother).
Robertson and Bowlby (1952) observed that there were three progressive reactions to separation. Protest, despair and detachment. They studied children aged 1 to 4 who had been placed in residential nurseries, mostly because of the mother’s hospitalisation. After the detachment the children generally became more interested in their surroundings and became more alert again. But the study found when the mothers returned they were greeted with lack of interest and often anger by

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