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School of Social Work University of Minnesota, Twin Cities SW 5810 Child Development: Resilience & Risk Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW October 3, 2009 Notes Toward What do I Want Students to Know about Attachment Child neurobiology and parental attachment styles affect quality of attachment In secure attachments, parents serve as secure bases from which children explore and to which they return in times of stress In secure attachments, parents serve as safe havens where child receive comfort and soothing and where they learn to self‐regulate Attachment between parents and children is observable and shows itself in behaviors such as o attunement and mutual regulation, o parental sensitive responsiveness, o parents as safe havens or not and serve as a place to process environmental events or not learn to cope or not Attachment is a relationship, but can look at child and parent behaviors separately but always in the context of relationships
o Two broad types of attachment o Secure o Insecure • Secure o Child Attachment Style One kind: secure—most of the time o Adult Attachment Style Secure—most of the time Resolved—at least coping well • Insecure Child Attachment Styles o Ambivalent/Resistant o Avoidant o Disorganized o RAD • Insecure Adult Attachment Style o Preoccupied o Dismissive o Disorganized o How Child/Adult Attachment Styles Mesh o Children’s attachment styles typically mirror parents’ attachment styles o Parents with secure/resolved attachment styles typically raise children with secure attachment styles
o Parents with insecure attachment styles typically raise children with insecure attachment styles o Parental attunement o In secure attachments, parents are sensitively and contingently responsive to their children o Synchrony o In secure attachments, parents and children mutually regulate each others interactions o Notions of breakdown and repair in relationships o Parents cannot always be sensitively attuned o Children as well as parents may require rest from interactions o Breakdowns in secure attachments are inevitable o In secure attachments, attunement in re‐established when both parents and children are ready to tune back in o In secure relationships between parents and children who can talk, repairs are made in developmentally appropriate through talk as well as behavior o Repair, therefore, sometimes takes effort and capacities to admit mistakes and take responsibility; this does not diminish parental authority o Inner working models (IWM) o develop from child‐parent/caregiver interaction as well as from interaction with others o definition: road maps, schemas, inner representations that are encoded in brain circuits about self, others, and how the world works o human beings seem to have “layers” of inner working models, some laid down in infancy, early childhood, etc o Not all inner working models are based upon “resolved” breakdowns in relationships. o more “mature” inner working models may be operative in the normal course of a day, but during times of stress older inner working models developed during infancy and other earlier times may be activated o In times of stress, then, children, parents, and all of us may “regress” to earlier ways of seeing ourselves, others, and the world o If these IWM have developed from secure relationships that include consistent repair, then they are functional. o Typically, many “older” IWMs have elements of “unresolved breakdowns” and therefore are based upon children’s misunderstandings and encoding of past unmanaged stresses and traumas o Children, teens, and adults may therefore dysregulate because these older more chaotic schemas may activate
o Attachment relationships are connected to o Neurobiology: how the brain works affects capacities for relationships and therefore for IWMs o Executive function (EF): planning, anticipation of consequences, judgment develop within relationships; except when neurobiology sets limit or traumas cannot be managed, children with secure relationships with their parents will have good executive functioning. This assumes that parents with secure/resolved attachment styles themselves have good executive functioning. o Trauma: unmanaged trauma can interfere with the development of secure attachment styles. Parents must learn to manage their own trauma and children require trauma‐specific interventions in the safety of secure relationships; think about IWM, SR, EF, and neurobiology o Self‐Regulation (SR): self‐regulation is part of executive function and good self‐regulation develops in the context of secure relationships Figure 1 shows how attachment is related to these other dimensions of human development. These first letter of each of these five elements is the acronym NEATS. Figure 1: Interrelationships of the Elements of the NEATS
Implications for Practice o Social workers do all they can to encourage parents to become emotionally available and attuned to their children o This includes finding resources for basic human needs
4 o Can include a range of services o Recognition of the many barriers to appropriate service provision o Recognition of the many reasons parents may be unable to respond o Sometimes service providers cannot find ways to work with some parents, typically because we don’t know enough and are not skilled enough and sometimes no one we know knows enough and is skilled enough to help us o Before any of this is possible, parents and service providers typically require secure relationships, called working alliances, sometimes o Service providers provide a secure base and a safe haven Not as “rescuing” but as a time‐limited measure where services are devised so that parents and children can find long‐term secure bases and safe havens that are a natural part of their environments Therefore important to see how to help children and parents work through issues related to trauma, self‐regulation, and executive function Service providers themselves behave in ways that show they have good self‐regulation and executive function o New research shows that children can achieve more optimal functioning when parents become emotionally available o Even when parents do not have good working alliances with service providers o Typically, however, service providers play a role in supporting parents in becoming more emotionally available o Service providers seek services that o have hopes of repairing blocks to parental emotional availability to the children o that help children deal with issues that arise as consequences of insecure relationships many different services can provide the safety, predictability, and attunement that are part of secure relationships
The principles of children’s mental health are starting points for case planning. In any child placement, the goal is warmth, affection, security, predictability, clear rules, immediate brief recognition for prosocial behaviors and following rules, and very brief consequences that do not interfere with children’s physical, social, and emotional development. Parents, foster parents, and other care providers do well when they are knowledgeable about the NEATS, update their knowledge of child development and parenting periodically, and have supportive families and friends. When children have special needs, care providers do well with parent support groups, respite, and on‐going education about child development and parenting. Good self‐care practices are important, too. The same is true for care providers. Work with children and families is stressful.
About the Author Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW, is a professor, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USA. Her books, articles, and children’s books are available on Amazon Kindle, stores.lulu.com/jgilgun, and many other on‐line booksellers. Her latest book is Shame, Blame, & Child Sexual Abuse: From Harsh Realities to Hope. She also has many videos at www.youtube.com/jgilgun
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