Molly Skyar, in open conversation with her mother, Dr. Susan Rutherford, a clinical psychologist and expert in human behavior, view parenting decisions through a psychologist’s perspective.
MOLLY: If your baby didn’t develop a secure attachment to a parent, how might you see that child acting in preschool and elementary school?
DR. RUTHERFORD: You might notice that preschool- and elementary school-aged children with attachment issues don’t discriminate enough between known caregivers and strangers. For example, they may go off with someone else without a backward glance at Mom or Dad. Young children should have different feelings for their regular caregivers than for other people.
MOLLY: Might it be something like preschool anxiety?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Preschool anxiety is very normal, and it can easily affect both secure and insecure children. But some children with attachment difficulties might appear unusually sad or scared and exceptionally difficult to console.
The key words here are “unusually” and “exceptionally.” All preschoolers run through a gamut of emotions, especially as they begin to separate and spend time away from home. But children with attachment difficulties stand out. This is largely because they don’t feel safe to reach out and explore in ways that are typical for their age.
When a child develops secure attachments, it creates a foundation for developing the ability to cope with friendships, intimate relationships, marriage, and eventually, their own role as a parent.
MOLLY: If he or she didn’t attach well to begin with, what effects might you see as your child gets older?
DR. RUTHERFORD: As soon as children become mobile, universal behavior patterns can be observed. The child will begin to explore without the assistance of the parent. As engaged as he may be with his activity, he will periodically return to check back in with Mom. This is called the rapprochement phase.
But children who haven’t had their basic security needs met in those first 18 months might not leave their parents at all because they don’t feel secure that the parents will be there when they come back. This can make it hard to make friends with their peers. They might feel better when they are by themselves.
In elementary school this may show up in kids who cry and refuse to get on the school bus to go to school for no valid reason. Some children with attachment issues may prefer to spend recess alone; some may fight with or bully others.
*Excerpted from the recently released ebook, Shaping a Secure Start: Parenting Your Child During the First 18 Months.