Theory for different forms of childcare

Developmental psychologists are interested in the study of the individual from conception to old age. One area of particular interest is the significance of parent-child bonding. Attachment can be defined as ‘an enduring bond of affection directed towards a specific individual’ (Santrock, 2001). The nature of the relationship between early attachment and later development is a central issue in developmental psychology and, given the increasing proportion of women with young children that go out to work, of specific interest is the quality of care-giving that infants receive.

This paper will firstly describe the essential features of the attachment theory followed by a critical evaluation of John Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis. An examination will be made of the work carried out by Mary Ainsworth (1978) on the nature of attachment relationships and finally an evaluation of the ways in which these theories and research implicate different forms of childcare will be explored.

John Bowlby (1930-80), was the key figure in the development of attachment theory; the theory that children have a drive to feel secure by forming an emotional bond with a primary care giver. Bowlby (1951) developed his theory of maternal deprivation based on research he carried out on juvenile delinquents who had experienced long periods of separation from their primary care giver in the first few years of their lives. What he concluded based on that research was that maternal deprivation could seriously affect the mental health of a child and moreover that an infant’s failure to attach to one specific care-giver could cause irreparable damage. This distinct preference exclusively for one specific person, preferably the biological mother, is known as monotropism.

Although Bowlby was initially influenced by the psychoanalytic tradition, in later years he also became heavily influenced by concepts from ethology and particularly that of imprinting (Lorenz, 1966), whereby the young of many species form early attachments to their parents. He argues that the tendency for the young to cling to or be ‘imprinted on’ their mothers can be seen in many other animal species and that by keeping the young close to their mothers enables them to survive.

In addition Bowlby (1951) felt that there was a critical period in the formation of attachments. He believed that between the age of six months and three years it was essential for children to receive continuous love from a primary caregiver and that prolonged separation between the child and their primary caregiver would not only cause distress but would have serious outcomes for the child. Evidence to support this view of Bowlby’s comes from observations of young children in hospitals. These studies showed that children, when separated from their mothers, exhibited a sequence of behaviour in which distress was initially accompanied by protest, followed by despair and eventually denial and emotional detachment from the mother (James and Joyce Robertson, 1967-73). This behaviour of denial and emotional detachment is characteristic of the insecure attachment classification.

Furthermore, research carried out by William Goldfarb (1940) suggests an association between the nature of early attachment to a caregiver and a child’s social behaviour in later development. Goldfarb (1940) studied the effects that institutionalised child-care has on later development. He compared children who had been cared for in an institution until the age of three and a half before been fostered to children who had been fostered earlier in life and found that those who had lived in an institution had poor language skills, craved adult affection and were more prone to behaviour problems than the children that had not lived in an institution.

Additionally, early research carried out by Harlow and Harlow (1969) seemed to support the maternal deprivation hypothesis. Initially they found that baby monkeys raised without their mothers showed aggressive behaviour and had problems caring for their offspring, however, subsequent research found that the consequences of been raised without their mothers (maternal deprivation) could be overcome. Harlow and Suami (1972) found that when baby monkeys are raised without mothers but in the company of other babies, many of the problems reported in Harlow’s earlier study in terms of the monkey’s later social development were not present. Furthermore, other research supports the suggestion that maternal deprivation can be overcome and that the effects of early experience can be reversed (Clarke and Clarke, 1976).

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