In order to answer this question, the first thing to investigate is attachment and how important it is to young children. There has been much conflicting research into this subject. The work of Lorenz, Bowlby, Rutter, and Ainsworth will be discussed. Also the work of Belsky, Clark-Stewart, and Melhuish et al. It is also important to know the difference between deprivation and privation. Deprivation is when something you have had is taken away, and privation is when you have never had something in the first place.
One of the first theories about how attachments happen was put forwards by Lorenz, as a result of his observations of animal behaviour. Lorenz adopted a method of study known as ethology which is the study of behaviour in its natural environment. Ethological studies are special ways of carrying out observations of behaviour.
Lorenz was particularly interested in the way that young ducks and geese will follow their parents around, from very soon after they have hatched. He observed that a young duck, or goose, begins to follow its parent around within a day of being hatched, and that they seem to avoid any other creature which comes near them – even other ducks and geese. Lorenz called this process imprinting.
John Bowlby thought that the idea of imprinting might also apply to human infants. In the 50’s he wrote that an infant had to form an attachment to is mother during the first two years of life: that was a critical period, and if this bond were not developed during this time, then the infant would suffer both emotionally and socially. The bond which the infant developed with its mother, Bowlby said, arose through an imprinting-type process, and was a very special one, quite different from any other bonds which the child might develop with other people. This type of attachment, Bowlby called monotropy.
In the sixties, Harlow produced a report on infant monkeys. Monkeys were raised in isolation without a mother or other monkeys. When they were grown it became obvious that they weren’t normal, healthy monkeys at all. They were much more timid than the other monkeys. They were frightened by the slightest new thing. Also they didn’t know how to act with other monkeys. When they were put into a pen with monkeys that had been brought up by their mothers, they were easily bullied and wouldn’t stand up for themselves. If they were attacked they would submit or run away.
When they were adult, they had difficulty with mating. Very few of the females ever mated successfully: only a couple of them gave birth to infants, and then it was found that they were inadequate mothers, who were unable to care for their own offspring. So it appeared that the early deprivation they had suffered – in not being brought up with other monkeys – had caused lasting damage to their social and emotional development.
Harlow concluded that these monkeys were suffering from maternal deprivation, being deprived of a mothers’ care. However, he later concluded through further studies that the monkeys were suffering from social deprivation rather than maternal deprivation. Although strictly speaking, the monkeys were suffering from privation as they had never had either a mother or the company of other monkeys. When he brought up some other infant monkeys up on their own, but with 20 minutes a day in the playroom with three other monkeys, he found they grew up to be quite normal.
Further studies have been done into maternal deprivation and the implication on child care. Mary Ainsworth completed studies in the ‘Strange Situation’. Since it is difficult to observe children in their home setting, a laboratory was set up with toys, seats, and a two way observation mirror. A child aged 14 months was placed in with the mother to play with the toys. After a period of time a friendly stranger was introduced. The stranger would talk to the mother and play with the child. Then the mother left the room leaving the child with the stranger. The stranger tries to play with the child but the child is distressed. She cannot be comforted.
Her mother returns almost straight away. The stranger leaves. Then after the child is comforted the mother leaves the child alone. The stranger returns to comfort the child but again she is distressed. The mother then returns. Although this study may seem cruel to the child, each episodes last for three minutes. This can be less if the child is very distressed. This study was done to see how the child behaves on reunion with the mother. Ainsworth was looking for the child, seeking contract, and maintaining contact, avoidance of contact, resistance to contact. There were three contrasting reactions on return of the mother.
The most common thing was for the child to cry while the mother was out of the room but be easily comforted by the mother on return. Ainsworth called this secure attachment. Sometimes it is called Type B.
Another reaction from some infants was to ignore the mother on return. They may turn away or avert her gaze. Ainsworth called this anxious / avoidant or Type A.
The last reaction was when the infant was upset by being left alone and could not be easily comforted by the return of the mother. They could not be comforted by the stranger either. The mother was rejected. This last classification is anxious / ambivalent or Type C.
Main and Solomon did further studies on the ‘strange situation’ and added a fourth reaction. This is when the child is confused and does not show a consistent method of coping with separation and reunion. They called this disorganized or Type D.
So what implications does all this have for Child care?
Among all the conflicting advice it is difficult to know what effect child card does have. Bowlby’s studies of maternal attachment were done just after the Second World War. Men were returning to find their jobs were being done by women. It was, therefore, desirable to take the women out of the work place and back into the home to care for the children. Although worthy, Bowlby’s research should be seen in this light. In 1981, Rutter did a key review of maternal deprivation. He dealt mainly with the difference between privation and deprivation. He concluded ” Early events may operate by altering sensitivities to stress or in modifying styles of coping which then protect from, or predispose towards, disorder in later life only in the presence of later stress events. The suggestion, then, is not that there is any direct persistence of good or ill effects but rather that patterns of response are established that influence the way the individual reacts to some later stress or adversity.”
Ainsworths’ studies show that different children react in different ways when being left with other people. The reaction of the child is also dependant on the quality of the carer-child relationship. This leads on to Goodness of Fit.
Goodness of fit is simply defined as the compatibility between the environment and a child’s temperament (Thomas ; Chess, 1977). Poorness of fit occurs when temperament is not respected and accommodated. Children are more likely to reach their potential when there is goodness of fit. If a child does not have secure attachment then it may not respond to separation from its mother in the early years.
Ainsworth has already identified that children with secure attachment can be easily comforted when reunited with their mother. If the child had been left longer with the stranger, it is possible that these children may have settled eventually.
Further studies have been done using variations of the Strange Situation. In 1988, Main and Cassidy studied three to six year olds. Their studies showed that children with a secure loving relationship will view themselves as lovable and will expect people to like them. Those who have not had this will not accept comfort when in distress and will view themselves and unlovable. When they are reunited after a separation, there will be a lack of eye contact and affection. This confirms Ainsworths theory of attachment.
Many researchers have compared children who are cared for at home with children who are in day care. One study by Jay Belsky and Laurence Steinberg (1978) concluded that day care did not interrupt the child’s tie to its mother. Clark-Stewart and Fein in 1983 stated that young children still form an attachment to working mothers and still prefer them to alternate care givers. 1988, Belsky had a change of heart. He reconsidered the previous evidence. He subsequently concluded, that more than twenty hours a week of day care, could be detrimental to the maternal attachments of children.
As there are variations in the temperament of children, so there are variations in the types of day care.
In 1990 a study of 255 two parent families was studied by the Thomas Coram Research Unit. The children were their first-born and were studied from birth until the age of three. All of the mothers were working before their child was born. Three quarters of the mothers returned to full time work after the child was born. The children were cared for in a variety of ways. A third were cared for by a relative, half by a childminder and the remaining twenty per cent attended a nursery. The children were assessed when they were 18 months old. They had already been in their day care setting for several months.
The carer was interviewed and the children observed at play. They concluded that the behaviour of the children was the same for some settings. The differences occurred in attention from and to the child. The greatest attention was in the home and the least in the nurseries. This could be accredited to the fact that the child-adult ratio was generally greater in the nurseries than at home. Thus, affection was lowest in the nurseries for the same reason. Aggression was higher in the nurseries as there was more opportunity to be exposed to it. An experiment was also done at this time which was similar to the Strange Situation. The reaction of the child was similar across the board with exception to the nursery care. Here, the children were less excited and less positive when introduced to the stranger.
The children were again observed at three years old. Here, the differences were that affection was greater between children and mothers and relatives providing care. However, the nursery children displayed more social aspects such as sharing and sympathy. (Melhuish 1990)
Research into child care has been extensive and conflicting. It has proved difficult for this research to come to a definite conclusion. Bowlby’s earlier research on maternal deprivation was influential and long lasting. Ainsworth built on this and further developed it by introducing the Strange Situation Technique. Belsky and Steinberg researched day care and concluded that it was not detrimental.
And yet, Belsky returned to this and re-evaluated this statement by concluding that over 20 hours a week day care could damage maternal relationships. Then again, as Lerner and Goodness of Fit would suggest, it would depend on the temperament of the child and the variations of day care as to how it would really affect them. The Thomas Coram Research Unit study concluded that children were broadly the same, whatever the form of day care, although subtle differences did occur.
AINSWORTH, M. AND WITTING, B.A. (1969) ‘Attachment and exploratory behaviour of one-year-olds in a strange situation’ in Foss, B.M. (ed.) Determinants of Infant Behaviour, Vol. 4, London Methuen.
BELSKY, J. (1988) ‘ The “effects” of infant day care reconsidered’, Early Child Research Quarterly, 3, pp 235-72
BELSKY, J. AND STEINBERG, L. D. (1978) ‘ The effects of day care: a critical review’, Child Development, 49, pp 929-49
BOWLBY, J. (1951) Maternal Care and Mental Health, Report to the World Health Organisation, New York, Shocken Books.
CHESS, S. AND THOMAS, A. (1984) Origins and Evolution of Behaviour Disorders, New York, Brunner Mazel
CLARKE-STEWART, A. (1988) ‘ The “effects” of infant day care reconsidered : risks for parents , children, and researchers’, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 3 pp. 292-318
LORENZ, K. (1966) On Aggression, London, Methuen
MAIN, M. AND CASSIDY, J.(1988) ‘ categories of response to reunion with the parent at age 6: predictable from infant classifications and stable over a 1 month period’, developmental Psychology, 24, pp. 415-26
MAIN, M. AND SOLOMON, J. (1990) ‘procedures for identifying infants as disorganised / disorientated during the Ainsworth Strange Situation’ in GREENBERG, M.T. CICCHETTI, D. AND CUMMINGS, E.M. (eds) Attachment in the preschool years, Chicago Ill., University of Chicago Press
MELHUISH, E.C., MOONEY, A., MARTIN, S. AND LLOYD, E. (1990a) ‘Type of childcare at 18 months – I. Differences in interactional experience’, Journal of child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31 pp. 849-59
MELUISH, E.C., LLOYD, E., MARTIN, S AND MOONEY, A. (1990b) ‘type of childcare at 18 months – II. Relation with cognitive and language development’. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31 pp 861-70