How does attachment influence the social and emotional development of the child? In your answer refer to the usefulness and the critiques of the attachment theory.

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How does attachment influence the social and emotional development of the child? In your answer refer to the usefulness and the critiques of the attachment theory.

A child’s social and emotional development has significant implications for the social functioning of a child throughout their lives, in their education, friendships and employment.  A child with poor or social and emotional development are at risk of experiencing poor relationships with peers, academic problems and can lead them into involvement in unsociable activities or crime.  Research suggests the key to social and emotional development lies in the child’s early relationship with parents and caregivers.  It is believed that children develop and thrive better when they are brought up in an environment where the caregiver satisfies a child’s needs physically and emotionally.  

Throughout the Late 1930s and 1940s a psychologist John Bowlby investigated the nature and the purpose of the close relationships that a person forms with people throughout their lives, in particular, childhood. He researched the making and breaking of bonds to understand the psychological behaviour and social and emotional development of human being (Howe, 1995, P46).  As a result of these investigations and studies Bowlby developed a theory called the ‘Attachment Theory’.  The basis of this theory is that “the infant and young child should experience warm, intimate and continuous relationships between the child and the mother” (Steele, 2002, State of the art: Attachment).  Bowlby’s attachment theory hypothesis that humans have some biological need to develop a close loving bond with their mothers, or caregiver. This bond develops within the first year of the child’s life, and if the bond is not developed or the bond is broken, the child’s emotional development may suffer. (Davenport, 1994, P9).  Bowlby’s theory has been used and extended and has influenced changes in social care, child care, institutions and other areas. The emphasis is on providing a nurturing, loving environment as a basis to build an emotional bond between the child and the caregiver to encourage the social and emotional development of the child.  (Davenport, 1994, P17)

Bowlby suggested that a child would initially form only one attachment and that the attachment figure acted as a secure base for exploring the world. The attachment relationship acts as a model for all future social relationships so disrupting it can have severe consequences. (McLeod, S.A. 2007)  

The attachment theory has provided powerful frameworks for understanding what happens to the psychological development of a child who does not develop an attachment relationship with a caregiver. John Bowlby's, Mary Ainsworth's, and Shaver's research created the understanding that childhood attachment styles, within the attachment theory, would help to understand or prevent adverse behavioural traits.  (Egan, May 2004)

In a well functioning attachment relationship, it is hypothesised that the child will use the mother as a base to explore.  Children with a secure attachment are more likely to have a curiosity of their environment and a willingness to explore. This is because the child trusts and has a sense of security in the availability of the caregiver.  Therefore the child is less likely to display anxiety in social settings because the child feels secure.  The securely attached child would interact with his/her environment and learn and develop socially.  

It is becoming increasingly known that securely attach infants tend to be more socially competent than insecurely attached.  Enhanced social competence can be explained by the child’s healthy sense of self, in that they acknowledge positive traits about themselves. Socially competent and self confident individuals are likely to make better relationships with others.  This would suggest that secure attachment in early infancy seems to lead to greater quality and quantity of social experience, and progressive social development throughout childhood and adolescence   (Howe, 1995, P60)

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During the childhood, from birth, the child may be exposed to a range of significant relationships and each of which will be capable of influencing the way in which the child develops.  The relationship between a baby and a caregiver is said to be the most important social relationship.   (Howe, 1995, P46)

James Robertson and Bowlby recognised and described the upset and pain that children experienced when separated from their parents and the effects this separation had social development of the child.  This is evident in a study done by Bowlby at a clinic for mentally disturbed adolescents.  He ...

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