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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Four Central Goals

My book has four central goals:

1. To impart an understanding of basic attachment theory. Attachment theory explains how we become secure, first as children and later as adults. The English psychiatrist, John Bowlby, was one of the first authorities to observe and describe the significance of early bonding between infants and their mothers and to develop attachment theory to explain behavior. The theory explains that the infant feels most secure when it is in close proximity to the person who cares for him or her. This "attachment" between the newborn infant and the caregiver begins to form very early in the infant's life, as he or she is nurtured during the hundreds of interactions necessary for survival. Slowly, the infant learns that a particular caregiver provides a predictable, safe, and comfortable world for the infant. An attachment begins to form and grow with this caregiver who is constantly available to the baby. It is with and because of this person that the very young child develops a secure base from which he or she feels free to explore their world.

I explain how stranger anxiety and separation anxiety is a normal part of the infant's development, how children become "securely attached," "anxiously attached," or "detached." Furthermore, my book discusses how infants and toddlers create "working models," which are expectations of how they will be treated in the future. The reaction of children to loss and separation are also
described.

2. To show the advantages-to both the child and the family-of parental involvement in the child rearing process throughout the childhood years. Parents can play a very important part in the cognitive, emotional, and social development of their children. While substitute caregivers may offer adequate care, motivated parents will usually be able to provide a far richer and more nurturing social and intellectual environment for their children. Such parental involvement is of great value in the early preverbal years as well as the later years of childhood. Generally, the parent will be more willing and enthusiastic in protecting, holding, cuddling, comforting, feeding, playing with, stimulating, and communicating with their infant and toddler. And, as the child grows and matures, both in the preschool and school years, parents are also generally better able to stimulate, educate, and protect the child and enrich his or her life. Parents play an important role in language development, in discipline, in communicating moral and social values, in providing enriched play environments, and in the creation of family rituals and traditions for the family.

3. To explain how "caregiver roulette," or frequently changing caregivers for infants and toddlers, can cause profound emotional damage as bonds and attachments are disrupted and how these events can produce long-range and even lifetime problems. Researchers have confirmed that many children who experience discontinuity of early primary caregivers, and who therefore do not develop secure attachments, are at a much increased risk for the development of problems that increasingly plague our society.

These include:

  • inability to learn a moral code and obey our laws;

  • inability to successfully learn from teachers and traverse our educational system;

  • inability to resist the temptations of drugs, alcohol, and substance abuse;

  • inability to form and sustain intimate relations and consequent problems in getting and staying married;

  • increased susceptibility to serious mental illness such as depression.

4. To provide solutions and practical approaches for all families in providing continuity of care for young children. I explain how all parents can take steps to provide continuity of child care. These suggestions cover single parents as well as parents in "nuclear" families. They cover families with minimal incomes as well as families with ample incomes and assets.
They include:

  • a description of the many different methods by which parents with varying incomes can find substitute care-givers who could provide the needed continuity and thus help to avoid disruptions caused by changing caregivers;

  • alternative arrangements that will allow parents themselves to more fully participate in the childrearing process. For those parents whose finances are tight, but who nevertheless wish to care for their own children, suggestions are made that will help parents to achieve these goals utilizing their creativity and motivation.

My book acknowledges that the grave social problems I describe are not entirely caused by frequently changing care-givers in the preverbal lives of our children. Of course, there are other causes. However; there is a growing body of clinical evidence to show that frequent losses and separations involving primary caregivers are factors that have a profound impact on a child's future, and that poor attachment experiences are one of the significant causes of long-range problems for children. These concerns have been voiced by many prominent authorities in the mental health community, such as John Bowlby, T. Berry Brazelton, Alan Sroufe, Jay Belsky, Mary Ainsworth, Mary Main, Selma Fraiberg, Ken Magid, Penelope Leach, and others.

It is my concern that many parents in the 1990s are not aware of the existence or the significance of caregiver roulette. Nor are they aware of the profound benefits provided by a stay-at-home parent.

There is another less obvious and less discussed benefit from parental presence. Whether or not both parents work away from home, accidents can happen to infants and toddlers. Also, we know that angers can flare, negative care can occur, and children can be frightened. But at least parents who are at home know of these events and have the opportunity to take their child to a doctor if sick or injured, or to otherwise demonstrate concern and affection. Thus, they can more immediately and appropriately respond as loving parents to their child.

It is my sincere hope and intent to encourage both expectant and new parents to make whatever temporary sacrifices and adjustments are required in order that they can be there for our youngest citizens during their most vulnerable and formative years.

We all know that seeds are more likely to flower abundantly and bear delicious fruit if they are planted in fertile soil, watered regularly, and nourished with plenty of sunshine. Children are no different.

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