The Importance of Early Attachments
Secure early attachments are said to pave the way for later psychosocial developments. Erikson and Bowlby portrayed the trusting, secure infant as one who is fortified with positive attitudes toward self and others. He enters new relationships with an expectation that his needs will be respected and with a willingness to respect the needs of others. His security helps him face new challenges; he trusts in the future.
Neither Erikson nor Bowlby saw the positive outlook of the secure child as immutable. Whereas secure children play a role in making their positive expectations come true by their choice of partners and through their own responses to others (Sroufe, 1996), they are not all powerful. If later experiences, especially with caregivers, violate their expectations, their burgeoning ideas about self and others could be modified, incorporating more negative expectations. In sum, early attachment is said to launch processes that can have long-term consequences; but the quality of care that the child continues to receive can either strengthen or redirect those processes.
Does early attachment quality predict later psychosocial functioning? Sroufe, Egeland, and their colleagues followed a large sample of Minneapolis children, beginning with two assessments of attachment status in the strange situation at 12 and 18 months (e.g., Vaughn et al., 1979). Children whose attachment status was stable from the first to the second assessment were later evaluated on a variety of interpersonal and cognitive dimensions, and differences were found between the insecurely and securely attached children on many measures. For example, when the children were 4 years old, 40 of them participated in a summer nursery school program at the University of Minnesota (Sroufe, Fox, & Pancake, 1983). Teachers, who knew nothing about the earlier attachment ratings, ranked the children each day on characteristics related to autonomy, such as attention seeking, extreme reliance on the teacher, involvement with teachers at the expense of peers, and so on. The children who had been securely attached as toddlers were more often seen by teachers as direct and appropriate in their dependency behaviors, seeking help when they realistically needed it but functioning independently in other situations. Insecurely attached children were more likely to act helpless, to act out for attention, or in some cases to passively avoid seeking help when they genuinely needed it.
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