By Kayla Gordon and Nina Loy
It has been shown that the relationships infants develop early on in life have lasting effects on their identity and behavior. Research completed by Harry Harlow and his colleagues has indicated that the relationship between an infant and its caregivers is particularly important.
Temperament and Attachment
All children are different, and in order to have a healthy relationship with your child, you should adapt your parenting methods to fit his specific needs. All children differ in fundamental ways, two of the most comprehensive being their temperaments and attachment styles.
A child’s temperament is the way in which he reacts to the world, new situations, people, and experiences. Attachment is an infant’s enduring emotional bond to his parents or primary caregivers. Both of these factors affect children not only in infancy, but throughout their lives. Temperament has been shown to be a consistent aspect of a person’s behavior over time, and their style of attachment to their primary caregiver often shapes the quality of platonic and romantic relationships with others as they age. A child’s temperament can affect his parent’s reactions and feelings toward him, and subsequently his attachment style.
Infants are put into three defined categories of temperament: easy, difficult, and slow to warm up. Easy babies adjust readily to new experiences and are generally happy and easy to calm. Difficult babies are easily upset, have intense negative emotional reactions, and have irregular bodily functions. Slow to warm up babies react to new stimuli as difficult babies would initially, but with repeated exposure will react more like easy babies.
Easy babies often engender positive reactions and feelings from their parents, which helps produce a secure attachment relationship between the parent and child. Difficult babies can inadvertently strain the parent-child relationship leading the parent to feel incompetent in their parenting ability or rejected by their child they cannot calm or comfort. These feelings of inadequacy can cause parents to unconsciously withdraw from their children, which can lead the child to feel rejected and result in an insecure attachment style.
As a parent, it is easy to inadvertently allow these feelings to affect your relationship with your child, but it is important that you do not. Your child is not intentionally attempting to hurt you. An insecure attachment style does not mean he dislikes you or that you are a bad parent. Temperament is a product of many different factors, and you are not to blame. It is important that you recognize this and do not allow your feelings to affect your relationship with your child. If you are feeling rejected by your child, make an extra effort to treat him with love and affection so you don’t unknowingly distance yourself from him.
The four attachment categories that infants are put into are: secure, insecure/resistant (or ambivalent), insecure/avoidant, and disorganized/disoriented.
Securely attached infants have a good quality of relationship with their parents. In the strange situation, where parents leave their child alone or with a stranger in a room full of toys, these children are upset when their parents leave, but easily comforted when they return. The child uses the parent as a “secure base” from which to explore the environment. In the strange situation, insecure/resistant infants stay close to their parents and become extremely upset when their parents leave, remaining so when their parents return, both seeking comfort and resisting efforts made by the parents to comfort them. Insecure/avoidant infants often avoided their parents during the strange situation, and ignored both their exit from and reentrance into the room. Disorganized/disoriented infants are inconsistent in their reaction to the strange situation, often exhibiting contradictory behavior.
It is important to adapt your parenting methods to fit your child. Children with difficult temperaments or who are ambivalently attached should not be left alone with strangers on a regular basis, which can cause them to distrust their parents. An insecure/resistant child will need more encouragement to explore the environment than a securely attached child. This is extremely important because this exploration can affect a child’s ability to interact with new people and to handle new situations. For an insecure/avoidant child, it is important to let him know that you love him, so be sure to express this verbally and establish comforting physical contact with him regularly.
To support a secure attachment, or avoid an insecure one, early on you can reflect on your own relationship with your parents and attempt to recognize negative effects, which could impact your own relationship with your child. A person’s relationship and attachment style with his parents is often passed on to their children through their own bond. Thus, if your childhood experience with your parents was difficult, it is important to make a conscious effort to not repeat their mistakes made dealing with you.
The style with which one parents his/her child can impact the relationship that forms between them as well as the child’s development. Parents act as direct instructors, indirect socializers and social managers for their children. As a parent you will influence your children through the rules you set for them, the information, advice, and strategies you provide them with, your daily actions, which show them how they should behave in day-to-day situations, and by managing their activities and social interactions. Therefore it is important to understand that how you parent your child has a significant impact on his identity development as well as how he interacts with others and views the world.
According to Baumrind, there are four different styles in which you, as a parent, can fulfill these roles. These are based on the parents’ levels of responsiveness and demandingness. A parent who has high levels in both categories is described as an authoritative parent. This is considered to be the most positive parenting style. As an authoritative parent you would have a strong emotional tie to your child, but would also be highly demanding, with rules and expectations you expect your child to meet. This often leads to a healthy relationship in which both parent and child are capable of reasonably negotiating, and the child feels encouraged to strive to his parent’s expectations. Less positive parenting styles are Permissive (there is a strong emotional tie, but the parent sets no expectations or rules for the child), Authoritarian (the parent is highly demanding, but not particularly responsive, with a weaker emotional tie), and Rejecting-Neglecting (the parent is neither demanding nor responsive, has no rules/expectations, and is not emotionally invested in the child).
Authoritative parents are the most likely to beneficially influence their child and guide them to success. As an authoritative parent you should try to set clear rules for your child to follow, with consequences when those rules are broken, and occasional rewards when you feel they are doing well. For example, you might want to make it a rule that homework has to be done before your child can go out, and that he can’t have sleepovers on a school night. If your child goes out before doing an assignment, and fails to complete it as a result, you could tell the child that he cannot go out for a week. On the contrary if you feel your child has done a good job keeping up with his schoolwork and grades, you could get him something that they wanted, or take him out to do something fun. In these cases the consequence for breaking the rules provides an incentive to follow them in the future, while the reward provides further incentive to continue to follow the rules.
You also want to be able to negotiate with your child. There can be circumstances in which the child’s wishes contradict rules that have been set. Continuing with the above example, perhaps your child wants to go to a friend’s house after school. He tells you that although he has not finished his schoolwork, he does not have a lot to complete. If you feel that he has done a good job of dealing with their work recently then you may want to consider allowing it as long as he guarantees to get the work done immediately after returning home, with more severe consequences if he fails to do so. It is important that although you have set rules, you are responsive to your child’s wants and needs, not always putting your rules ahead of their feelings. Try to compromise with him when possible.
Doing this can help develop a strong, beneficial relationship between yourself and your child. If you respond to his needs, he may feel closer to you, and more inclined to meet your expectations. This can lead your child to begin to set goals for himself, along with plans to meet them independently. This not only sets him up for immediate success in school or whatever he is focusing on, but also in the future when dealing with college or work. He will be more motivated to complete his work to the best of his ability and to work past any barriers or conflicts that arise.
Allard, Lindsey T., and Amy Hunter. “Understanding Temperament in Infants and Toddlers.” Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Vanderbilt University, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/wwb/wwb23.html>.
Davis, Jeanie L. “10 Commandments of Good Parenting.” WebMD. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/10-commandments-good-parenting>.
Siegler, Robret, Judy DeLoache, and Nancy Eisenberg. How Children Develop. 3rd ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2011. 425-98. Print.