In my last post, I opened the subject of attachment in children and its importance in creating resilience for children toward recovery from a traumatic events. In short, a child that has had a healthy parent (or caregiver) attachment process in infancy will have an easier recovery from trauma. Let’s look at this process more closely.
Nurture: how the attachment process overcomes trauma
While attachment has a great influence on the capacity to overcome trauma, the lack of attachment in and of itself can be traumatizing to children. The awareness that attachment is a legitimate, measurable and essential process that all infants need to experience is relatively new and began when John Bowlby first published his research in the middle of the 20th century. It took years for professionals in the field of child psychology and pediatric medicine to shift belief systems regarding what we now know infants require in order to begin healthy processes of emotional and relational development.
Many obstacles faced Bowlby and others who became aware of the processes of attachment and their importance. These barriers were embedded in unresearched, pervasive beliefs such as isolating infants and letting them “cry it out” without comfort as a way to promote self-reliance. In this country, these beliefs were perpetrated by strong Puritan beliefs and the sorts of systems that did not promote nurturing of infants and children, such as slavery and social practices that discriminated against families’ rights and needs for protection and nurture.
Family legacies and attachment “wounds”
Without having an understanding of the importance of and what contributes to healthy attachment, parents—especially those who are unaware that they may have attachment issues—might innocently cause traumatizing wounding to their children because they are unable to parent in ways that promote healthy attachment. Add to that the pain and suffering the issues caused by unhealthy fads, social experiments or directives, and incorrect beliefs that lead to unhealthy practices with regard to nurturing children that are sometimes impressed on parents by uninformed but highly touted professionals or laypeople.
It is important to note that we tend to pass our beliefs about parenting from generation to generation. Some of the loyalties to our own family beliefs may prohibit us from becoming aware of current research that points us to the critical fact that attachment plays a huge part in the emotional and relational health of a child.
Understand then, that it is quite possible some children evidence signs of trauma from lack of healthy early childhood attachment to their parents/caregivers. This potential impact can surface in many levels, from minor to absolutely traumatizing. So, when dealing with children who are struggling with emotional or relational problems, it may be helpful to know about attachment from their early life caregivers. This information may provide clues to why children often act the way they do.
More to come on this vital topc.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Deepening Trauma Awareness, Diane Wagenhals, 2008. All rights reserved. Licensed materials.