We have been discussing how trauma and adverse childhood experiences affect a child’s lifetime emotional, physical and relational health. A child is most vulnerable during early childhood development, when dependent on the care given by adults. If the early childhood development process has been a healthy one, the child is more likely to possess the resilience to handle trauma than if the process has been troubled.
The importance of the attachment process in infant health
In a predictable, safe atmosphere of loving care, infants are able to bond with their mothers to form strong and secure attachments. This healthy attachment process promotes secure, emotionally healthy young beings. Science can now prove that a child nurtured during a healthy attachment process is profoundly affected neurobiologically in brain growth, overall development and functioning. Science is also discovering neurobiological benefits received for mothers during the child-mother bonding processes.
According to a North Dakota State University article, Understanding Attachment in Young Children…
“The quality of the relationship between parents and young children is one of the most powerful factors in a child’s growth and development. Understanding this relationship has changed our understanding of what is important in parenting young children. The term attachment often is used to describe the nature of this relationship.
Terms such as attachment and bonding often are used interchangeably. However, the meanings can be quite different.
Attachment is the word used to refer to the relationship developed between an infant and a parent or primary caregiver during the first two-to-three years of life. How this relationship forms is dependent on how a parent responds to a child’s needs for care, comfort and security. It develops gradually and goes through a variety of phases. Note that this attachment refers to a child’s feelings and actions in the relationship and not to the parent’s feelings about the child.”
These conclusions are verified by another expert’s research. According to the Vermont Agency of Human Services’ report, The Effects of Psychological Trauma in Children and Adolescents…
“Children who lack a secure attachment relationship are at a greater risk for extreme dysregulation of affect in the face of trauma and the development of enduring post-traumatic stress symptoms. Conversely, the presence of a secure attachment relationship can buffer the adverse effects of trauma and provide the safety and nurturing that allows the child to process the traumatic events and return to a sense of safety and well-being.
Secure attachment bonds serve as primary defenses against trauma-induced psychopathology in both children and adults (Finkelhor & Browne, 1984). In children who have been exposed to severe stressors, the quality of the parental bond is probably the single most important determinant of long-term damage (McFarlane, 1988, p. 184.).” 1
Later in the report, it is stated…
“Caregivers play a critical role in modulating children’s physiological arousal by providing a balance between soothing and stimulation; this balance, in turn, regulates normal play and exploratory activity. Adequate caregivers maintain an optimal level of physiological arousal; unresponsive or abusive parents often promote chronic hyper-arousal in these children. Chronic hyperarousal, in turn, contributes to a child’s inability to self-soothe or modulate strong emotions.”
I think these realizations about attachment are incredibly insightful in that they indicate how some children may handle traumatic events or adverse situations better than others. It is also vital for us to understand just how important it is to support young parents as they care for their children in the early stages of infancy.
More to come as we continue to discuss this significant aspect of a child’s growth and development from day one!
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Deepening Trauma Awareness, Diane Wagenhals, 2008. All rights reserved. Licensed materials.
1 The Effects of Psychological Trauma on Children and Adolescents Report Prepared for the Vermont Agency of Human Services Department of Health Division of Mental Health Child, Adolescent and Family Unit by Kathleen J. Moroz, DSW, LICSW June 30, 2005.