Child Development Theories: John Bowlby

Child Development

Child Development Theories: John Bowlby

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John Bowlby was a pioneering attachment theorist. While early attachment theories considered attachment a learned behaviour, Bowlby’s attachment theory showed there could be a lasting physical connectedness between human beings. Bowlby’s work showed frightened children seek the reassuring proximity of a primary caregiver, displaying clear behavioural and motivational patterns.

John Bowlby Attachment Theory

John Bowlby was a British psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst whose evolutionary attachment theory was first developed during the 1950s and 1960s. His work is considered the dominant approach to understanding early social development. The major principles of attachment theory stress the following:   

    • Children aged 6-30 months are extremely likely to form secure emotional attachments to familiar caregivers, especially when these adults are both sensitive and responsive to a child’s expressed needs.
    • Young chidrens’ emotional attachments are demonstrated by their behavioural preferences for certain familiar people; by their habitual tendency to wish to stay close to those people, especially if in distress; and by using these familiar adults as a secure base while exploring their world.

  • Forming secure emotional attachments is linked to the later development of emotions and personality. So the kind of behaviour toddlers display toward familiar adults has some continuity with the types of social behaviour they themselves will demonstrate later in life.
  • Any events which disrupt attachment, such as the abrupt separation of the toddler from familiar adults or any significant lack of sensitivity shown by those carers, or inability to be consistently responsive in their interactions, will have short-term and perhaps long-term detrimental impacts on the child’s cognitive and emotional functions.

The implications of attachment theory are that children who are securely attached at an early age tend to develop stronger self-esteem and better self-reliance as they mature. Such children are also likely to be more independent, to learn better at school, to enjoy successful social relationships, and to be less likely to suffer depression and anxiety.

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