The Importance of Early Attachments (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Overall, there is little doubt that infant attachment relationships are predictive of some later behaviors. What is presently uncertain is, how important are early attachments in producing such outcome differences? More specifically, does the early attachment actually have long-term effects, or could the more recent and current caregiving environment be responsible for the apparent continuities? In the Minneapolis study, for example, some children who had been securely attached as infants were having behavior problems by age 4. The quality of parenting during the preschool period helped account for this change. Mothers of these children were less supportive when engaging their children in educational tasks at age 3. They provided less encouragement and were less effective teachers than mothers whose children did not develop later behavior problems. Also, children who had been insecurely attached as infants but who were well adjusted at 4 years tended to have mothers who were supportive and effective in their interactions with their preschoolers (Erickson, Sroufe, & Egeland, 1985). It seems that the role of early attachments in later development can be diminished, and perhaps even eliminated, when parental acceptance, support, and responsiveness changes substantially, either rising to the challenges of the child’s new developmental stage or failing to do so (see also Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1990; Youngblade & Belsky, 1992).

What, then, is the value of getting a “good start” with a secure infant attachment? It may be that the primary influence of infant attachments is their tendency to perpetuate themselves. Once a relationship pattern between parent and child is established, it tends to be repeated; when it is, the older child’s behavior is consistent with predictions from the early attachment. In his first relationships, a baby may well form an incipient “working model” of what to expect from interactions. That model affects his behavior and expectations in the future, but the model is in progress and will be reworked in the context of new interactions.

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