How Does Attachment Affect Behavior? (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Sep 29, 2011

The primary caregiver of a child with disorganized/disoriented attachment usually has serious problems of her own—she may be mentally ill, severely depressed, or addicted to drugs or alcohol (Lyons-Ruth and Jacobvitz, 1999). Sometimes she is frightened, unable to manage her life; and sometimes she is frightening—angry, hostile, distant. Very often she abuses her child—48 percent of children who have been maltreated have a disorganized attachment pattern, according to a meta-analysis of nearly 80 studies (van IJzendoorn et al., 1999). At one and the same time she is the source of danger and safety, alarm and comfort (Lyons-Ruth and Jacobvitz, 1999). From this confusing experience, children derive internal working models of people who can't be trusted to care for them or organize their world (Lyons-Ruth, 1996). They are sad and anxious, with poor social skills, self-control, and frustration tolerance. Because they haven't developed an organized strategy for handling stress or strong emotion, they often have serious behavior problems, acting unpredictably and aggressively with their teachers and peers (Lyons-Ruth, 1996; van IJzendoorn et al., 1999).

Although children living with the most difficult conditions—trauma or severe conflict, for example—tend to remain disorganized (Moss, St-Laurent, Dubois-Comtois, and Cyr, 2005), most children with disorganized attachments evolve a new strategy by their early school years. In an attempt to make their relationship with their mother more predictable and less frightening, their behavior becomes controlling (Humber and Moss, 2005; Moss et al., 2005), creating problems with peers and teachers, who find them bossy and inflexible (Greenberg, 1999).

Avoidant and disorganized behavior often appear together, and both are associated with peer rejection and poor emotional and school adjustment (Granot and Mayseless, 2001). But it is the children with disorganized attachment (especially those with the controlling variety) who are most likely to behave aggressively (Lyons-Ruth and Jacobvitz, 1999; Moss et al., 2005; van IJzendoorn et al., 1999). About 15 percent of children in middle-class families display disorganized attachment, but in families where there is poverty, maltreatment, or substance abuse the percentage can be two to three times as high (van IJzendoorn et al., 1999).

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