Sunday, June 27, 2004

Attachment theory

I found the relationships column in yesterday's Herald Sun quite interesting. Written by Tim O'Leary, a counsellor with Relationships Australia, it included the following:

More than 40 years ago, UK psychotherapist Dr John Bowlby developed his attachment theory, which explained that if small children have a constant and secure attachment to a caregiver, their mental health will have been well-anchored as children face the challenges of growing up.

Without a constant positive figure in their lives who is consistent in responding to a little child's needs, the child will get by as best they can, but without the anchor of secure attachment. Children with insecure attachment carry doubts about relationships ...

While kids who grow up securely attached still have their good and bad days, they are sure of themselves in a way a kid who grows up without this ability is not.

What Tim O'Leary writes here of attachment theory seems true within my own experience. I was lucky enough to enjoy a very healthy dose of love and care from my mother as a young child, and I've always felt that it gave me a strong, protective sense of self-esteem and self-identity.

It's one reason why I'm sceptical about the benefits of putting young children into long-term institutional care. Even if children are well-treated in institutions, it's unlikely they'll receive the same kind of personalised love and care from a single adult they have a consistent relationship with.

Although some children will be resilient and still grow up OK, and others may even learn to be assertive and successful within a group setting, many children are likely to miss out on more subtle feelings of "settled inner security, identity and worth" which come from secure attachment within a family.

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