By Alane Atchley, M.S., LMFT-Associate, LCDC
“Attachment” is quite a hot word these days It’s not only in the therapeutic community but in the parenting community as well. In regards to parenting, there are hundreds of blogs that come up when you Google “attachment parenting.” The blogs are full of posts about co-sleeping, baby wearing and breast-feeding; and while these components can be important, these blogs are often lacking in the research behind the techniques.
The research on attachment in parent-child relationships began with the work of John Bowlby, a famous researcher who paved the way for all the attachment researchers after him. Bowlby defines attachment as, “a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space.” While conducting his research and working with children and their parents, he observed that children, when separated from their primary attachment figures, become extremely distressed. When fed by other adults, the children’s anxiety remained elevated, and he found that the children could most effectively be soothed by their attachment figures.
This observation proved true and was expanded upon with Harry Harolw’s Rhesus Monkeys experiment. In Harlow’s experiment, infant monkeys were separated from their mothers and put into a cage with two decoy mother monkeys. One decoy was made of wire and a bottle of milk attached, and the other decoy was covered in fur but did not have a bottle attached. Throughout the experiment, the monkeys would latch onto the fur decoy and would only go to the wire decoy to eat. The monkeys would then promptly go back to the fur decoy for nurture. For the infant monkeys in the experiment, nurture and warmth took precedence over being close to the source of the food.
What past research has found is that attachment plays a pivotal role in emotional regulation and relational development. When secure attachment is built in the first few years of life, the groundwork has been laid to experience and enjoy healthy relationships in the future. So the basis behind many of the techniques in attachment parenting is finding ways to attune, connect and meet your baby’s needs to form a secure attachment with parent and child.
Over the past 40 years, research and treatment of attachment issues has advanced. One effective attachment treatment modality to use with children is Theraplay®. Ann Jernburg and Phyllis Booth developed this modality in the late 1960’s. They were working in an early head start program and saw a need within their client population. They began to bring in activities that were engaging, nurturing, challenging and structured that mimicked an early attachment relationship. From that idea Theraplay® was born, and the Theraplay® Institute was developed. Modern day Theraplay® is a type of interactive, family play therapy. Its goal is to enhance and/or build attachment, self-esteem, trust in others and connection within the relationship. Theraplay® is now a treatment modality that is used worldwide and across many cultures. Theraplay® is effective in treating families of all shapes and sizes and has been found especially helpful in building attachment and relationship in foster and adoptive families.