DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Bridging the Relationship Gap Connecting with Children Facing Adversity SARA E. LANGWORTHY, PhD COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Bridging the Relationship Gap Connecting with Children Facing Adversity SARA LANGWORTHY, PHD COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Published by Redleaf Press 10 Yorkton Court St. Paul, MN 55117 © 2015 by Sara Langworthy All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted on a specific page, no portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or capturing on any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a critical article or review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper, or electronically transmitted on radio, television, or the Internet. First edition 2015 Cover design by Jim Handrigan Interior design by Wendy Holdman Typeset in Arno Pro and Trade Gothic Std. Photos on page 10, 43, 85 © Mike Oria, page 53 © Thinkstock/Jose Luis Peleaz Inc, page 55 © Mina Blyly-Strauss, page 73 © Thinkstock/Fuse, page 77 © Thinkstock/ David Sacks, page 93 © Thinkstock/Antonio_Diaz, page 97 © Thinkstock/ JoseGirarte, page 107 © Thinkstock/wavebreakmedia, page 131 © Thinkstock/ LucieHolloway, page 135 © Thinkstock/montiannoowong, page 154 © Thinkstock/ monkeybusinessimages, page 156 © Thinkstock/MonaMakela Printed in the United States of America Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Langworthy, Sara.   Bridging the relationship gap : connecting with children facing adversity / Sara Langworthy. — First edition.   pages cm  Includes bibliographical references and index.  ISBN 978-1-60554-388-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-60554-389-5 (ebook) 1. Attachment behavior in children. 2. Interpersonal relations in children. 3. Early childhood education. I. Title.  BF723.A75L36 2015  155.4'192—dc23 2015009364 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET To my parents: My first and best example of a consistent, caring, and supportive relationship • COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Contents Acknowledgments ix Introduction: Hope in Spite of Brokenness 1 Part 1: Relationships and Reality: What We Feel and What We Live 1 How What We Feel Creates What We Know 2 How What We Feel Builds the Brain 3 How What Surrounds Us Changes Us 4 How What We Experience Shapes Us 7 25 47 63 Part 2: Research and Response: What We Know, What We See, and What We Can Do 5 When Those Who Love Us Hurt Us 6 When Those Who Love Us Leave Us 7 Reenvisioning the Response: Where We Go from Here 121 References 169 Index 177 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 87 151 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Acknowledgments This book, like any, was not a project completed in isolation. Many kudos, thanks, and champagne toasts are due to the following people for making this book a reality: To Kyra Ostendorf, David Heath, Ashley Robinson, Alyssa Lochner, and the rest of the team at Redleaf Press for giving me the opportunity to do this crazy thing in the first place. To my editor, Danny Miller, and the rest of the editorial staff at Redleaf Press for keeping this book a reasonable length by keeping me concise and to the point, and for giving me thoughtful and help- ful suggestions for how to make this book better along the way. To my research heroes: Kathleen Thomas, Herb Pick, Ann Masten, Karen Cadigan, Rebecca Shlafer, Cathy Jordan, and so many others who have all inspired me through their passion and commitment to more deeply understanding the complex lives of children and families. To my colleagues at University of Minnesota Extension and the Children, Youth and Fam- ily Consortium for encouraging me to take on this challenge. To Shawn Dobbins, who made sure I got the best out of the deal before I even began to write. To Mike Oria, who let me share his beautiful images throughout this book. (See more of Mike’s great work here: To Dave, Dana, Isaac, and Abigail, who let me capture the beautiful simple moments of relationships in your family to share with others. To the many care providers, professionals, and practitioners who shared their volumes of expertise on what it’s like in the real world. Many of the prac- tical suggestions in this book came from them. Thanks to Michele, Kamyala, Molly, and Rosemary for agreeing to talk freely about the incredible work that you do every day. Thanks to R. D., D. C., G. W., K. G., A. P., M. M., L. D., R. R., and I. T., whose stories helped pull me out of “researcher” mode and reminded me of the real children experiencing adversity every day. Special thanks to Stacey Bellows for talking me through what it’s really like to be a ix COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET x ACKNOWLEDGMENTS care provider and for agreeing to review parts of this book to make sure I got things right. To all the people who gave me feedback on this book. When I talked with my friend Sara about editing, she said, “You know, letting someone edit your writing is like letting them take a peek in your underwear drawer.” So. True. I am so grateful that I have such wonderful colleagues whom I can trust to peek in my proverbial underwear drawer without fearing their ridicule. A million thanks to all of you who took time out of very busy lives to read drafts and provide constructive and supportive feedback. I’m looking at you, Sara Benning, Rebecca Shlafer, Judy Myers, Cari Michaels, and Stacey Bellows. You made this book better. Thank you. And then there are all my friends, family, and colleagues, near and far, who cheered me on throughout the writing process with words of encour- agement, hugs of support, and glasses of wine. I am especially indebted to: My choir friends Marta, Kate, Christina, Katherine, and the rest of my National Lutheran Choir family who kept me singing and laughing through- out this process. Cari and Judy, the best colleagues a girl could ask for, whose constant encouragement throughout this entire journey has made writing a joy rather than a struggle. Amanda, Mark, Sara, Dave, Dana, Sara, Dave, Rebecca, Raquel, and Jason, who through chats, happy hours, and numer- ous board games nights helped remind me there’s more to life than work. My parents-in-law Richard, Janet, and Margie, who, whether through shop- ping sprees to calm my nerves or hikes in the Arizona desert to stimulate my creativity, helped to keep me going when I needed motivation. Erin Arndt, who, like all best friends do, kept me humble and laughing. Sara Benning, my partner in crime, friend, and confidant, who talked me down from panic many times, and without whose constant source of support I would be lost. And of course, I can’t forget my dogs, Bingley and Kaylee, who constantly gave slobbery dog kisses, kept my feet warm when I was typing for hours, and made sure I took breaks to throw the ball from time to time. But there are three people I really owe this book to. Two are my parents, Paul and Joy Spencer, without whom I would not truly understand the power and value of caring, supportive, consistent relationships. I’m blessed to have a mother who picks up whenever I call, and whose many words of wisdom and constant support throughout the years have gotten me through life’s ups COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET ACKNOWLEDGMENTS and downs. My dad has been a constant source of quiet strength and humble perspective in my life, and has taught me that hard work and persistence really do pay off. As a team, my parents have taught me the value of drive, passion, curiosity, commitment, and love, and there aren’t enough words to thank them for all they’ve done for me. And last, but certainly not least, my incredible husband, Jason, who (and he’ll tease me later for being mushy) is the love of my life. He reminds me daily that a sense of humor, a penchant for silliness, and a love of laughter are the things that make life worth living. Throughout the writing of this book, he endured many of my frustrated rants and anxious ramblings, and yet he was my unwavering source of support. He has never doubted me, and his calm, indefatigable confidence always gives me strength. He has kept me balanced, sane, and laughing through everything we’ve been through, a gift for which I could never thank him enough. COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL xi OUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 1 How What We Feel Creates What We Know Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last, and always. URIE BRONFENBRENNER D I open the door, a shrill cry greeting my ears. She’s at it again. It happens this way most days lately. My wife likes to call it the “just that time of day” screaming fest. I’m told it’s normal for babies to do this, but our ears could use a break from the sure to be future soprano in our midst. “She’s at it again, I see,” I comment to my wife, who has our three-month-old daughter in her arms. “Yes, and now I think it’s your turn,” she says, smiling, clearly relieved I’ve returned. I always did have perfect timing. I take my daughter from her mother and head to the living room, sit on the red couch, and lean back to let her lie on my outstretched legs. She still screams, but I remain calm, holding her squirming body. I know she needs this daily afternoon cry, her wails seemingly a tes- tament to the cruel reality of having little to no control over the rolling waves of emotions that overtake her for no rhyme or reason. But I sense she’ll soon reach the dreaded point of no return. So I look down into her face, my voice gentle, rhythmic, and calm: “Peace.” She stops crying abruptly, her teary eyes searching for my own. She seems surprised, almost perplexed; perplexed that she is crying, and perplexed that I am here, patiently looking down on her. I don’t know if it’s the rhythm of my voice, or just my refusal to let her screams disrupt my inner calm, but somehow it’s like she understands. It’s as if she senses my calm and latches on to it like a life preserver in the waves of tumultuous emotions that rock her tiny body. She understands that she is safe. No matter the intensity of her screams, I am there. 7 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL OUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 8 CHAPTER 1 D This is a conversation to be sure, but not one full of word- laden promises. Yet I sense there is shared understanding of them, nonetheless. As her eyes search my face, her little thumb finds her mouth. Her hiccupping breaths begin to subside. Before long, she’ll be ready for her dinner. But for now, it’s just the two of us, a father and his daugh- ter, saying so little, but understanding so much. RELATIONSHIPS FIRST This is a story I have heard often from my parents about my dad’s inexplicable ability to calm me down from an infantile exhaustion-induced screaming fit with a simple word: “Peace.” But it was never about the word, I suspect. I wasn’t old enough to understand words yet. The calm, soothing voice and the solid presence of my dad communicated all that my infant self needed to know. His actions communicated safety, comfort, and love. They told me that he was someone I could rely on, always. Think about your relationships with the important people in your life. Maybe it’s with a parent, a spouse, or a close friend. What is it about those relationships that make them important to you? Is it sharing common interests and experiences? Is it the feeling that you can count on these people no matter what? Is it the joy you get out of laughing together? Is it the comfort you feel when you are with them? You probably rely on these relationships more than you even realize. In fact, those important relationships are such an integral part of your life that it is probably hard to imagine what life would be like without those close friends and family members. It’s a part of our human nature to seek out those people around us who we believe will provide comfort, support, enjoyment, and love. RELATIONSHIP ROOTS Humans have a deeply rooted need for social connection. Early in human existence it became essential for humans to rely on one another for safety and security in order to thrive in an environment of constant threat. The necessity COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET HOW WHAT WE FEEL CREATES WHAT WE KNOW of relationships for survival begins at birth. Infants are born expecting and needing human interaction. Though we often think of infants as passive and helpless, their behaviors are actually biologically programmed to actively seek out interaction with adults (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). Throughout the years of growth from infancy into adult- hood, youth rely heavily on the adults surrounding them to provide stability, safety, and guidance. It is during those years of infancy, childhood, and ado- lescence that strong emotional bonds with other humans form, change, and grow. These relationships teach us about our world and what to expect from it. These bonds are essential for successful growth and development into adulthood (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004b). Human babies are not alone in seeking important relationships with oth- ers. Some animal species display similar tendencies. Research with ducks, dogs, goats, and monkeys has demonstrated that early in life many types of animals seek comfort and nurturance from an adult figure (Bowlby 1982). One of the most well-known and striking demonstrations of this involved baby monkeys who were given the option of spending time with a “wire mother,” which only provided food, and a “cloth mother,” which was an object wrapped in cloth meant to simulate a mother monkey. Despite the biological need for food, the baby monkeys spent most of their time seek- ing comfort from the cloth mother rather than obtaining food from the wire mother. Furthermore, when loud noises or frightening objects scared these  monkeys, they clung fiercely to the cloth mother to seek comfort. These monkeys viewed the cloth mother as a source of comfort and safety (Bowlby 1982; Harlow 1958). Similarly, human babies are born seeking this kind of connection and comfort from the people around them. When they are upset, being soothed by an adult helps them to become calm. Infants actively seek out responses from adults around them by cooing or squealing. These early relationships have been shown to play an integral part in brain development and have been linked to cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes later in life (National Sci- entific Council on the Developing Child 2004a; Shonkoff and Garner 2012). Researchers, practitioners, and parents have come to call these important relationships between infants and adult caregivers attachment relationships. COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 9 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 10 CHAPTER 1 THE GIVE AND TAKE OF EARLY RELATIONSHIPS The term attachment describes the close bonds between humans that stem from seeking comfort, stability, and protection from one another (Bowlby 1982; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). Tradi- tionally, this term is used to describe the nature of the relationship between children and their caregivers. Attachment research began with very young children and their parents. However, there is also a large body of research examining attachment relationships throughout adolescence and adult- hood (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). The attachment relationship between a caregiver and child occurs through the process of back-and-forth interactions, sometimes called serve-and-return inter­actions. Through these daily exchanges, babies are able to learn about the stability and predictability of their environment, and learn to trust the COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET HOW WHAT WE FEEL CREATES WHAT WE KNOW caregiver as a source of comfort and safety (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004b). The Role of Serve-and-Return Interactions in Attachment Serve-and-return interactions are daily exchanges that are the basis of early communication between the baby and parent. Consistent and positive exchanges help to build strong relationships between parents and their chil- dren. A serve-and-return interaction is like a game of tennis. One player serves the ball, hitting it across the net to the other player. The second player then returns the serve, sending the ball back across the net to the first player. Inter- actions between children and caregivers are very similar. For example, a baby might coo or squeal to get her mother’s attention. The mother then returns that interaction by looking at the baby and smiling. The baby might then point to a dog outside the window, and the mother might look at the dog and say, “Oh, look, it’s a dog!” These types of simple back and forth inter- actions tell the baby that the adult is engaged with her and receptive to her needs. It is the build-up of these interactions over time that helps construct an attachment relationship (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004b). When these serve-and-return interactions are largely positive and respon- sive, the result is a solid foundation for secure attachment. The key attri- butes of a positive, or secure, attachment relationship involve the caregiver providing safety and security to the infant. In secure attachments, babies learn that their emotional needs will be met and that their caregivers will provide consistent care and safety—a “safe base” from which they can freely explore the world around them. Babies who exhibit secure attachments to their care­givers are likely to explore their surroundings but will return regu­ larly to their caregivers to “check in.” When they are frightened, securely attached babies will seek comfort from their caregivers, and the caregivers will respond soothingly to help calm them (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). Research suggests that secure attachments in infancy are linked to a variety of positive health and behavioral outcomes later in life. Children with more secure relationships with caregivers are likely to have increased COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 11 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 12 CHAPTER 1 empathy, be more insightful of other people’s feelings and thoughts, and engage in more cooperative interactions with peers later in childhood. In addition, these strong relationships build a basis of language development and set a foundation for more successful cognitive and academic outcomes (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004b). Not all types of attachment relationships are positive. Indeed, secure attachments are most common, but relationships between children and caregivers can become strained or even destructive. In these relationships, children do not receive consistent messages of comfort and security, often causing them to learn mixed messages about their environment. To use the tennis metaphor, it is as if the second player didn’t return the ball back over the net, or perhaps hit the ball too hard to a spot where the first player couldn’t return it. The game quickly turns from friendly to frustrating. In the context of early relationships, babies may seek out adults’ responses by squealing or cooing, and if adults do not respond, respond negatively, or are inconsistent in their responses, babies will not receive messages of stability and comfort (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004b). Instead, babies learn that seeking comfort results in either receiving no com- fort or being hurt by the caregiver. The lack of consistent, positive serve-and- return interactions can lead to insecure attachments. In these interactions, adults may respond to children’s babbles or cries with anger or indifference. When caregivers neglect to respond, babies may try even harder to engage the adults, perhaps leading to a negative outburst from the adults. Eventu- ally, babies learn that these caregivers are not consistently responsive to their needs, or worse, that the caregivers are the source of some threat to them. They may then completely disengage from the caregivers or be distressed by their presence (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). Of course, insecure attachments are not the same as the occasional missed response to a baby’s excited giggle. Insecure attachments are built on repeat- edly inconsistent or negative and hurtful responses to the child. All care- givers have days when they aren’t at their best. Insecure attachments form when parents have their worst day every day, and as a result cannot be the responsive, caring adults that babies require to meet their needs. Yet, even when infants learn that their caregivers are inconsistent in their care and responsiveness, these babies still gain important emotional support from the COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET HOW WHAT WE FEEL CREATES WHAT WE KNOW presence of the caregivers that they do not get from the presence of just any other adult (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). Thus, primary caregivers are still crucial to the growth and development of their children and are not easily replaced by other adults. The “Strange Situation” Experiment Researchers have developed creative ways to measure the attachment rela- tionship between a young child and caregiver. The classic study of differ- ences in attachment patterns is called the “Strange Situation” experiment developed by Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s (Ainsworth et al. [1978] 2014; Bowlby 1982). In this experiment, a young child (one to two years of age) and a parent or guardian are brought into a research laboratory room con- taining toys and are encouraged to play. Then, an adult that the child does not know enters the room and converses with the parent. After a few minutes, the parent is instructed to leave the room. Researchers observe the young child’s behavior at the caregiver’s departure. Children are typically distressed when their parent leaves the room. The other adult stranger offers comfort to the child if the child is very upset but otherwise remains a neutral presence. After a short time, the parent returns to the room, and researchers observe the characteristics of the reunion between the parent and child (Ainsworth et al. [1978] 2014). In general, researchers gauge the child’s level of exploration of the new environment, the child’s reaction to the parent leaving, the child’s anxiety response to the strange adult, and the child’s reunion behaviors with the parent. The child’s response to the parent’s return is the most telling mea- sure of attachment security. In a secure attachment relationship, the young child may show some anx- iety when first entering the room, but at the parent’s coaxing and encour- agement may begin to explore the room and engage in play with the parent. When a new adult enters the room, the child may seem unsure at first, but once determining from the parent that the other adult is not a threat, may even play with the other adult. Once the parent leaves the room, a child with a secure attachment style will likely express distress and cry for the caregiver to return. Her source of comfort and safety has left her in a potentially scary situation, leaving her upset and uncertain. The child will likely eventually COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 13 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 14 CHAPTER 1 calm down but may also remain observably unhappy while the parent is gone. However, once the parent returns, the child will eagerly seek comfort and reunion with the caregiver. She is clearly happy to see the caregiver and will seek comfort and solace from the caregiver immediately. The key to the secure attachment style is that the child is comforted by the parent’s return (Ainsworth et al. [1978] 2014). In an insecure attachment relationship, this pattern of behavior looks very different. In general, a child with an insecure attachment style may not seek to engage the parent in play initially. She may not even seek interaction with the parent at all during the first stage of the experiment. Then when the parent leaves, the child with an insecure attachment style may become upset, much like a child with a secure attachment. Conversely, the child may not even notice or seem to care that the parent has left the room. When the other adult offers to comfort the child, the child may receive comfort, avoid the adult and remain distressed alone, or seem ambivalent about the pres- ence of the other adult. Interestingly, in some cases, the child with an inse- cure attachment style may seem to gain as much comfort from the presence of the other adult as she does from her parent. When the parent returns, a variety of responses may occur. The child may seek comfort from the parent but then physically pull away on contact. She may approach the parent and then stop and resort to crying in place rather than approaching the parent further. In some cases, the child may not even seem to care that the parent has returned. Unlike the children with secure attachment styles, children who have insecure attachment styles do not effectively use their caregivers as a source of support and comfort to ease their distress. It is these responses to this scenario that are telling indicators of potential insecurity of the attach- ment bond between the child and parent (Ainsworth et al. [1978] 2014). Attachment patterns have been categorized by researchers into four pri- mary categories: secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-ambivalent/­resistant, and insecure-disorganized (Ainsworth et al. [1978] 2014; Main and Solomon 1990). Infants with secure attachment styles, as described above, clearly seek comfort and support from a parent and will willingly participate in explor- atory behaviors with the parent present. Within the context of the Strange Situation experiment, on a parent’s return, children seek out comfort to ease their distress, and the parent’s presence has a soothing effect (Ainsworth COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET HOW WHAT WE FEEL CREATES WHAT WE KNOW et al. [1978] 2014). It is important to remember that these behaviors are observed primarily in very young children (one to two years of age), and these attachment patterns will look different in older children. Children with insecure-avoidant attachment styles tend to explore a new environment considerably less than their peers, even in the presence of the parent. One of the hallmark behaviors of insecure-avoidant attachment is the child’s apparent ambivalence about the parent’s presence or absence. That is, they do not seem to care if their parent is with them or not. They express little distress at the parent’s departure and little comfort or relief at the par- ent’s return (Ainsworth et al. [1978] 2014). Within the context of the early care environment, this may be most noticed at the end of the day when par- ents come to pick up their children. Typically, children become excited to see their parents and will eagerly engage with them. However, children with more insecure-avoidant patterns of attachment may not seem to care or be excited to see their parents. Children with insecure-ambivalent/resistant patterns of attachment will also tend to explore very little, even in the presence of their parent. They also express some distress or wariness at the presence of the other adult. Interest- ingly, these children tend to notice their parent’s return (unlike children with the insecure-avoidant pattern), but they may express noticeably angry behav- iors toward the adult. Conversely, they may seek out comfort from their par- ent through more passive means (crying on the floor) rather than actively approaching them upon their return (running to parent, demanding to be picked up). In the early care context, these children may be visibly upset or angry at their parent’s return instead of having a joyful reunion (Ainsworth et al. [1978] 2014). Years after Mary Ainsworth developed the Strange Situation experiment, researcher Mary Main suggested that a fourth subtype of attachment exists: insecure-disorganized attachment. This attachment style is the least defined and most ambiguous. Yet Mary Main argued that insecure-disorganized attach- ment exists when children do not seem to have a pattern of behavior consis- tent with expressing discomfort at a parent’s departure or seeking comfort from the parent’s return. Instead, children with insecure-­disorganized attach- ments may seem to express fear in the presence of the caregiver or engage in odd behaviors that do not indicate any strategies for how to seek comfort COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 15 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 16 CHAPTER 1 from adults (Howes and Ritchie 2002; Main and Solomon 1990). In the context of early care, these children may exhibit many challenging behav- iors. You should certainly be aware of children who appear fearful at a par- ent’s return, as this may indicate a more serious problem. Research in the last ten to fifteen years has begun to examine insecure-disorganized attachment styles more systematically to attempt to articulate these types of behaviors more concretely. It is again worth noting that it is the consistency of these types of reactions that are most important. Children may have days when they are more upset than on others because of things unrelated to the security of their attachment relationships with their parents. However, if a child consistently responds in fear or avoidance of a parent, concern may be warranted. As a care provider, you will see that being aware of the patterns of how young children respond to their parents can be a useful tool in understanding children’s challenging behaviors in the early care environment. Attachment in the Early Care Environment To many early care providers, challenging good-byes and tearful reunions are common scenarios. In fact, the child’s stress at a parent’s departure is a common part of every early care environment. But it is the coping through that stressful experience that is a marker for the child’s attachment security. The ways that a child copes with these challenges also shift over time, making it a dynamic, ever-changing process. Attachment is not a static construct. It changes and grows with the child and caregiver; always effected by the surrounding environment (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004b). Furthermore, parents or guardians do not provide the only important relationship in a young child’s life. Indeed, early care providers often develop strong attachment relationships with children in their care (Howes and Ritchie 2002). Interestingly, the type of attachment relationship children have with their primary caregivers does not necessarily determine the type of attachment relationship they will have with care providers or any other adults. Children often develop different types of attachment relationships with different adults in their lives. That is, if a child has an insecure attachment COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET HOW WHAT WE FEEL CREATES WHAT WE KNOW with his father, he might have a secure attachment with a preschool teacher. Care providers have a tremendous opportunity to support and promote the development of these important early relationships. What do different types of attachment look like in an early care envi- ronment? Children expressing a secure attachment pattern will tend to seek comfort from a trusted adult when they are upset or hurt. They are more likely to ask for help when they need it, easily follow instructions and direc- tions, transition smoothly between activities throughout the day, and share in activities and exploration with the provider (Howes and Ritchie 2002). The nuances of differences in behavior of the subtypes of insecure attach- ments often require a keen observer. In general, children with an insecure attachment style may be more difficult to work with because of their chal- lenging behaviors. Unfortunately, behavioral problems are often a notice- able consequence of insecure attachments. Children with insecure-avoidant attachment styles tend to turn away and reject comfort from providers and are rated by teachers as more aggressive and likely to withdraw from situations (Howes and Ritchie 2002). Conversely, children who express insecure-­ambivalent/resistant attachment styles tend to be both excessively dependent on the care provider while also being difficult to work with. These children tend to be fearful and upset when the care provider leaves, but are also likely to display demanding and aggressive behaviors with the care pro- vider. Children with insecure-disorganized attachment styles are perhaps the most confusing children to work with, as their behaviors are inconsis- tent and difficult to predict. These children seem to have no clear patterns of interacting with the care provider, and thus it is difficult for providers to develop connections with these children because of the unpredictability of their actions (Howes and Ritchie 2002). When working with children with challenging behaviors in the early care environment, it is not important to know which subtype of insecure attach- ment may be a root cause of the behaviors. However, understanding that the behaviors you see may be a result of some underlying relationship challenges with primary caregivers can be useful in exploring how to most effectively work with young children. Furthermore, exposure to stress and trauma, in addition to affecting children directly, can also disrupt important attachment relationships with caregivers (see chapters 2 and 4). COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 17 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 18 CHAPTER 1 WHAT ATTACHMENT MEANS FOR LATER DEVELOPMENT Attachment relationships are not only important for providing safety and security to young children during early life. These relationships also provide crucial foundations for physical health, as well as cognitive, social, and emo- tional development later in life. Exploration and Discovery Children use relationships with trusted adults to gauge the safety of their sur- roundings. Young children are very skilled at reading their caregivers’ behav- iors and emotions, and they use this emotional information to help assess the safety of the environment. One classic experiment that highlights the importance of the caregiver’s emotions in infants’ exploration is the “Visual Cliff ” experiment. In this classic experiment, infants are placed on a plexi- glass table with a high-contrast checkerboard pattern underneath. On one half of the table, the checkerboard pattern is directly under the plexiglass. On the other half, the checkerboard is draped four feet below the plexiglass, sim- ulating a drop-off, or “visual cliff.” However, because the plexiglass can hold the weight of the infant, the drop-off is merely simulated. Though babies are comfortable crawling on the part of the table with the checkerboard directly under the plexiglass, they tend to avoid crawling on the part of the table that simulates the drop off (Gibson and Walk 1960). However, when encour- aged by their caregiver through positive emotions (smiles, encouragement) to cross the table in spite of the drop-off, many infants attempt to make the crossing. Conversely, if caregivers express fear or concern, the child will more likely stay on the “safe” part of the table (Sorce et al. 1985). This type of inter- action is seen throughout experiments that stretch infants’ skills and com- fort levels. Caregivers’ expressions of emotions are crucial in helping infants assess threat and understand the safety of the surrounding environment. The ability to learn about threats and safety in the environment through interaction with caregivers builds a strong sense of trust between care­givers and their children. This trust furthers the development of a child’s confi- dence with exploring other unknown situations. These early experiences build a strong foundation for later learning and exploration in school and COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET HOW WHAT WE FEEL CREATES WHAT WE KNOW social situations throughout life (National Scientific Council on the Devel- oping Child 2004b). Emotional Development Caregivers’ emotions play an important role not only in signaling safety or threat to young children but also in teaching them how to understand, com- municate, and regulate their own emotions. Responsive caregivers may treat children’s emotional outbursts as a chance to talk through their feelings in a way that helps them feel understood. Even when children don’t understand language, speaking in soothing tones can be helpful. When the caregiver maintains a sense of calm when a child feels emotionally out of control, the caregiver is communicating responsiveness and comfort (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). For example, a mother might hold her screaming infant and calmly speak in soothing tones, or might tell her angry two-year-old, “Natalie, I know you are angry with me, but I’m going to stay right here with you.” These words and actions convey that even when the child is upset, the caregiver will be a source of support throughout the emotional roller coaster. Caregivers who are stressed and struggle to regulate their own emo- tions may have difficultly responding constructively to a child’s emotional outbursts. Sometimes caregivers respond by yelling, scolding, or physi- cally shaking the child when a child is emotional. Think about the mother described previously. Imagine she speaks angrily to her crying infant or yells at her two-year-old, “Natalie! Stop yelling or you’ll be in big trouble.” This type of response may serve only to increase the child’s emotionality, because she may interpret her mother’s emotion as cause for further alarm. Caregiv- ers’ highly emotional responses may exacerbate rather than curb the child’s disruptive behaviors. Before long, the interaction can turn into a spiraling cycle of uncontrollable emotion for both caregiver and child. However, working with caregivers on finding healthy ways to manage their own emo- tions and be more responsive and soothing in their interactions with their children can be extremely beneficial in helping them build more stable rela- tionships. When caregivers become more responsive and emotionally calm, it teaches children that even when they feel out of control, they are safe with COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 19 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 20 CHAPTER 1 their caregivers (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000; National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2009). These calming and responsive reactions of caregivers over time help strengthen children’s ability to regulate their own emotions. By the time they reach preschool, children are then more adept at understanding, expressing, and talking about emotions in a much more complex way (National Scien- tific Council on the Developing Child 2004a). Caregiver responsiveness helps children begin to understand complex emotions and also use language to describe their feelings. In fact, children of caregivers who provide consis- tent emotional stability tend to be much more able to express their emotions appropriately later in childhood (National Scientific Council on the Devel- oping Child 2004a). Children more capable of emotional understanding and control tend to be more cooperative and empathetic with peers, have a stronger sense of conscience, and have more skilled ways of handling conflict (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000; National Scien- tific Council on the Developing Child 2004a). As they learn about emotion through interactions with responsive care- givers, children begin to develop self-regulation, or the ability to control behaviors in appropriate ways. The ability to regulate emotions and behaviors is crucial for success in structured environments such as school. The foun- dations of self-regulation are developed early through the serve-and-return interactions that young babies experience with their caregivers. The develop- ment of self-regulation continues throughout early life as children learn how to appropriately understand and express emotions and control their behav- iors (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). Young children learn these skills of self-regulation through these coaching inter­ actions with caregivers who are consistently responsive to their physical and emotional needs. The seeds of the emotions and behaviors children express later in life are cultivated through these early interactions with adults. Building Self-Concept In the mid-twentieth century, psychologist Lev Vygotsky proposed that how caregivers supported their children’s learning was an important factor in development. Caregivers who engage with their children in challenging COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET HOW WHAT WE FEEL CREATES WHAT WE KNOW activities without taking over, while providing adequate coaching and encour- agement, can help foster positive social skills in their children (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). Conversely, some chil- dren have parents who take over a problem and provide a solution because it’s easier than waiting for their children to figure out a solution on their own. This tendency to take over can communicate to children that they are not capable of solving the problem, and can result in lower self-esteem and feel- ings of helplessness. Conversely, some children have caregivers who refuse to help them solve complex problems or provide any input or coaching at all. In those situations, children may not feel supported in their explorations, resulting in increased frustration or apathy. Instead, caregivers who are able to provide a balance of coaching and encouragement without taking over provide children with what scientists call scaffolding. Much like scaffolding’s purpose on a building is to provide support and structure, scaffolding in early life is the process by which caregivers provide necessary input to help children discover solutions on their own. It’s the process of working together with children that helps build their confidence, skills, learning, and later cooperation with others (National Research Coun- cil and Institute of Medicine 2000). For example, if Paul is playing a memory matching game and his father helps him by cuing him with phrases such as “Do you remember where the other elephant card was?” and “Maybe you should try this row of cards,” Paul receives not only useful information for solving the problem at hand, but also feels supported in that endeavor. Con- versely, if Paul’s father were to take over and do all the matching for him, Paul would likely lose interest in the game entirely and withdraw. If his father did not help him at all with the game, Paul might become frustrated and quit playing entirely. Parents are not the only people to provide these types of learning experi- ences. In fact, many of the games and activities recommended for early care environments naturally use this idea of scaffolding. Some activities may be challenging tasks for children, but with the assistance of a care provider, the tasks are manageable and children can master new skills. Encouraging chil- dren to remain engaged in challenging tasks can be difficult, especially if they are accustomed to adults taking over or not helping them at all. However, by offering gentle encouragement and providing a variety of opportunities COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 21 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 22 CHAPTER 1 to master challenging tasks, care providers can help children learn prob- lem-solving skills. Furthermore, the sense of pride and self-confidence built by these learning experiences is important for later learning and social rela- tionships (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). Importance of Peer Relationships In addition to providing children an opportunity to learn, explore, and build self-regulation, early relationships with sensitive caregivers also help build social skills important for interacting with peers later in life. Regulating emo- tions is a major component of successful peer interaction. That is, children who are able to express emotions appropriately are more likely to be sensi- tive and understanding of their peers’ emotions. Empathy and sensitivity are core components of lasting friendships (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004b). Furthermore, in navigating early relationships, children learn core con- cepts about resolving conflict with others. A caregiver’s responsiveness in handling conflict with a child, or between children, helps children begin to understand and handle conflict in appropriate ways. These skills of cooper- ation and conflict resolution can positively affect how children interact with their peers (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). Fostering these skills early in life through responsive caregiving is important for later development of positive social relationships and success in school (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004a, 2004b). CULTURE AND RELATIONSHIPS Attachment relationships do not develop in a vacuum. There are many char- acteristics in the surrounding environment that may influence the way early relationships develop. One of the most important factors that influences how attachment relationships develop is culture (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). Culture affects individual caregivers, families, communities, and learning environments. Thus, it is impossible to under- stand early childhood development without considering culture. In recent years, there has been more exploration of culture as an important COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET HOW WHAT WE FEEL CREATES WHAT WE KNOW factor in development, but it is outside the scope of this book to exhaustively explore the many varied developmental nuances of children from different cultures. However, it is important to note that differences in how relation- ships develop in various cultures may influence the way children and their caregivers interact. Because our understanding of attachment comes from primarily western European cultural backgrounds, there may be cultural nuances that are lost, or worse, misinterpreted, about the quality of attach- ment relationships across cultures. Early care providers are facing unprece­ dented numbers of children from a variety of cultural backgrounds, each with its own differences and complexities. It is important to understand that the ways children express their attachments may vary greatly because of their own traditions and cultural experiences. Furthermore, those variations do not necessarily indicate poor attachment relationships. Taking the step to learn more about the children and families you work with is imperative in creating a positive and supportive care environment. It is necessary to always consider children’s culture, environment, family, and personal experiences when interpreting their behaviors. CONCLUSIONS Throughout the early years, children learn extensively about the world around them through their relationships with others. The quality and consis- tency of those relationships is one of the most important factors in children’s early lives. In short, relationships matter. They are the context in which other learning occurs. These early relationships with caregivers build important connections in the brain, facilitate the ability of young children to control their behaviors, and support children’s ongoing learning throughout their lives. LINGERING QUESTIONS ➤ Can a child be attached to more than one person? Yes! In fact, young children rely on having a few key primary attachment relationships with people around them. These may be parents, grandparents, or other care providers. If you’re spending a lot of time with a child as a care provider, COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 23 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 24 CHAPTER 1 you could be one of his primary attachment figures. In addition, there is no evidence to suggest that children having secure relationships with multiple caregivers is damaging to, or interferes with, the strength of chil- dren’s relationships with their primary caregivers (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004b). ➤ What about fathers? Attachment has largely been studied by examin- ing the relationship between the mother and child. This should not be taken to mean that fathers do not have attachment relationships with their children—quite the opposite! In fact, research indicates that the importance of the father-child bond is as important as the relationship between mother and child (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000). ➤ Do children have different attachment relationships with different people? Yes. Children may have secure attachment relationships with some people and insecure attachments with others. However, if children have a strong primary relationship that is secure in nature, they will likely have fewer insecure relationships with others (National Research Coun- cil and Institute of Medicine 2000). ➤ Do attachment relationships change over time? Yes. Attachment is not a static concept. In fact, children may have insecure attachments with their primary caregivers early in life, but at other times of their lives they may have securer attachments. In addition, these relationships are not more or less important at particular stages of life, but the impact of those relationships may vary based on age (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004b). COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Early Childhood Education / Child Psychology Help young children thrive in the face of adversity Relationships play an important role in human development, “After reading this book, especially in the first years of life. So what is a care provider early childhood care providers to do when a child is facing adversity such as abuse, will embrace the important neglect, domestic violence, loss of a loved one, poverty, role they play in the lives or homelessness and may be deprived of important early of children facing adversity. relationships? Langworthy offers a book Bridging the Relationship Gap provides caregivers with tools of hope, encouragement, and encouragement to be the strong, positive, and nurturing and insight and, to children adults these children need in order to thrive. facing adversity, the gift • Learn about the ecological, biological, and cultural factors of adult caregivers with that contribute to the achievement and relationship gaps. increased capacity to understand where they • Examine different attachment styles and learn how to recognize them in children. come from, why they act the way they do, and how • Understand how stress and trauma affect brain to connect with them in development and behavior. ways that foster resilience.” • Learn techniques for dealing with the tough situations. • Discover ways to foster recovery and resilience in children. You, as an early childhood professional, can form one of the essential relationships in a young child’s life and become their biggest ally. —Cathy Jordan, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Extension, University of Minnesota Sara E. Langworthy, PhD, works for the Children, Youth and Family Consortium at the University of Minnesota Extension. An expert in brain development research, she enjoys developing creative ways of bridging gaps between the worlds of research, practice, and policy. Currently, she is creating trauma-sensitive learning environments to promote student resilience and learning. She is also co-founder of The Exchange Loop, an organizational consulting firm. Sara lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, with her husband, Jason, and two dogs, Bingley and Kaylee. ISBN 978-1-60554-388-8 $29.95 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL