Child Development Theories

Case Study
On a good day, Claire is just like any other ten-year-old girl – she is jovial and plays with her peers happily. However, sometimes she seems withdrawn and does not talk to any of her peers. When asked by the teacher, she does not talk and just sits looking distracted and withdrawn. One day, when the teacher pressed her for an answer she shouted that she wanted to be left alone and walked out of the classroom. Claire grew up in a beautiful home until she was five years when her parents divorced. When asked about her mother by the teacher she seems disinterested. She was more attached to her father and misses him a lot. Upon further inquiry, the teacher found that due to the nature of his current job that demands a lot of traveling, Claire’s father is only available occasionally on phone with the email being the only direct communication. Her mother is bitter towards life and has been diagnosed with a severe case of anxiety disorder with mild symptoms of depression. Although she has been trying to get help, this problem seems to have affected Claire. The teacher also found that from a young age, Claire always had a close relationship with her father than her mother.
Child Development Theories
From time to time, children act out by questioning the rules and throwing tantrums among others. This kind of behavior is often witnessed when the child is overly stressed, tired, or angry. However, although such kind of behavior is part of a child’s development, if it affects the child’s family, social, and school life, then it is a serious problem. Against this background, and a critical analysis of Claire’s case study, we deduce that she is having attachment problems at home. In light of this, we explore different attachments theories and identify the most appropriate that relates to Claire’s case.
Several studies indicate that parental emotional neglect can be harmful to children. For instance, as Harry Harlow demonstrated in the 1950s, strong emotional bonds between children and parents play a critical role in the healthy development of children (Barbre, 2013). John Bowlby, who is also known as the founding father of attachment theories describes attachment as an emotional bond that affects children behavior throughout their life. In particular, Bowlby elaborates that the way a child bonds with the caregivers during his/her early childhood affects their behavior throughout their childhood life into adult life. Availability of a parent implies that the parent is physically accessible to the child, and lack of accessibility means that the parent is unavailable, which can be temporary or permanent (Howard, Martin, Berlin, & Brooks-Gunn, 2011). Notably, while the physical availability of the parent is important, Howard et al. noted that Ainsworth stressed that availability for a child means two things. Firstly, the communication line between the child and the parent must be open and the child must develop a belief that the parent will respond if needed for help.
Relating Attachment Theory to Claire’s Case
Attachment refers to the behavioral propensity to have a physical contact or proximity through communication to an attachment figure when feeling insecure due to perceived illness, exhaustion, and danger among other cues (Schuengel, Oosterman, & Sterkenburg, 2009). A perceived lack of access to an attachment figure is likely to elicit signals of insecurity, aloofness, anger, and frustrations among others, which can only be corrected when an alternative figure is found. According to Bowlby, responses to separation are products of the attachment behavioral system (p. 2). More specifically, Bowlby explored the impact of maternal deprivation, where the mother is absent or non-responsive. Bowlby believed that children are born with an innate need to develop a close relationship with the mother. When this fails to happen, it negatively affects children development causing a decline in intelligence levels, triggering levels of aggression, depression, delinquency, and affectionless psychopathy among others. In the case of Claire, from a young age, she did not develop a secure attachment with her mother and leaned more towards her father. In this case, the absence of the maternal attachment and after the father left, she no longer has an attachment as it used to be before the parents separated.
Following Bowlby’s, Mary Ainsworth further expanded upon this research with her famous study that involved observing children and their response to a mother’s relationship (Hong & Park, 2012). From her experiments, Ainsworth identified four main attachment styles – secure, anxious-ambivalent, anxious-avoidant, and disorganized attachment –, which she concluded that they were a result of early interactions between a mother and child. Insecure attachment, Benoit (2004) elaborates, the child feels securely attached to the mother and will be free to explore when the mother is physically present. The child will be able to engage with strangers and will display signs of feeling upset when the mother leaves. Children who are securely attached are able to develop a secure base that they can lean on in times of need. The second attachment style is the anxious-ambivalent insecure attachment, where the child is anxious and resents relating with strangers even when the parent is present. The child feels distant separation anxiety when he/she is separated from the caregiver or the parent. As a result, the child is likely to feel insecure even when the parent returns. The third style of attachment is the anxious-avoidant insecure attachment, where the child is more likely to avoid the mother, showing little or no emotion when the mother is around or absent. The particular style of parenting happens when the mother is unavailable or unconcerned with the welfare of the child from an early age. The last is the disorganized attachment, which is often considered unhealthy because there is no form of attachment between the parents or caregivers with the children.
Considering the above case study, Claire seems unattached to her mother. Claire’s mother is bitter towards life and has been diagnosed with a severe case of anxiety disorder with mild symptoms of depression. Due to her attitude, Claire’s mother has been unavailable to Claire who had formed a strong bond and attachment with her father. Unfortunately, after Claire’s parents separated, the father is available occasionally, often unavailable on phone. The only direct line of communication between Claire and her father is through the email address, which is also not instant. From the above analysis, we can deduce that Claire does not have a secure attachment with both her parents. Apart from days when Claire is happy, she is usually withdrawn, displays signs of depression, and aggressive resistance.
Longitudinal studies indicate that a secure organized attachment protects a child against emotional and social adjustment problems. Children will develop insecure, avoidant, or secure organized attachment with one parent depending on the way they react to the child. Insecure-avoidant and resistant have been identified as risk factors for maladjustments in a child’s life. However, the disorganized attachment has been identified as the most powerful indicator. According to Benoit (2004), children with disorganized attachment with their caregivers are more vulnerable to stress, have problems regulating their emotions, may openly display aggressive behavior, and withdrawal. Disorganized attachment with the parents is associated with difficult temperament, poor peer relations, and social and behavioral problems in the classroom among others. Clearly, Claire lacks attachment with her parents, which is a powerful indicator in a child’s development in later life. The lack of a secure relationship in Claire’s life is evident in her aggressive behavior towards the teacher, her difficulties relating with her peers, and her social problems.
Parents play different roles in their children lives including caregivers, teacher, playmate, and the most important of all in relation to this study – attachment figure. Attachment theory represents one of the popular and empirically grounded theories in parenting. Attachment represents a significant element in the relationship between a parent and a child and plays a critical purpose in making a child feel safe, secure, and protected. The role of a parent as an attachment figure has been identified as one of the most important in predicting a child’s future social and emotional outcome. In this paper, we identified a child with attachment problems and chose attachment theory by Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth to explain the child’s attachment problems. Based on the four attachment styles, we identified that Claire has a disorganized attachment with her parents, which is reflected in her social and emotional behavior in the school environment.

Barbre, J. (2013). Foundations of responsive caregiving: Infants, toddlers, and twos. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Benoit, D. (2004). Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement, and outcome. Pediatrics and Child Health, 9(8), 541-546.
Hong, Y. R., & Park, J. S. (2012). Impact of attachment, temperament, and parenting on human development. Korean Journal of Pediatrics, 55(12), 449-454.
Howard, K., Martin, A., Berlin, L. J., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2011). Early mother-child separation, parenting, and child well-being in Early Head Start families. Attachment & Human Development, 13(1), 5-26.
Schuengel, C., Oosterman, M., & Sterkenburg, P. S. (2009). Children with disrupted attachment histories: Interventions and psychophysiological indices of effects. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 3(1), 1-10.

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