Is attachment the same as bonding? Can I have a healthy attachment with my baby if I don’t breastfeed?Do I have to babywear to develop an attachment to my baby?Will being apart from my baby disrupt our attachment relationship?Is co-sleeping critical to attachment?
These are just a few of the questions that listeners wrote to me after I sent out a call for questions on Attachment. This was such an enormous topic to cover that Dr. Arietta Slade and I did the best we could in the time we had, and we did indeed cover a lot of ground.
If you’ve ever been curious about the scientific evidence on how attachment forms, what are its benefits, and what it has NOT been shown to do, this is the episode for you. We also cover reflective functioning, one of the central ways that the attachment relationship develops, and discuss how to improve our skills in this arena.
Check this episode for more attachment research: Most of what you know about attachment is probably wrongDr. Arietta Slade's BookAttachment in therapeutic practice - Affiliate link
Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Benoit, D. (2004). Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome. Pediatric Child Health 9(8), 541-545.
Bowlby, J. (1973/1991). Attachment and Loss: Volume 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger. London, U.K.: Penguin.
Bowlby, J. (1971/1991). Attachment and Loss: Volume 1. Attachment. London, U.K.: Penguin.
Cassidy, J. (2008). The nature of the child’s ties. In J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaver (Eds.) Handbook of Attachment (pp.3-22). New York, NY: Guilford.
Greenspan, S.H. & Salmon, J. (2002). The four-thirds solution: Solving the childcare crisis in America today. Boston, MA: Da Capo [Note that Dr. Slade mis-remembered the title of this book as “The Three Fourths Solution”]
Hudson, N.W., & Fraley, R.C. (2018). Moving toward greater security: The effects of repeatedly priming attachment security and anxiety. Journal of Research in Personality 74, 147-157.
Jones, J.D., Brett, B.E., Ehrlich, K.B., Lejuez, C.W., & Cassidy, J. (2014). Maternal attachment style and responses to adolescents’ negative emotions: The mediating role of maternal emotion regulation. Parenting: Science and Practice 14, 235-257.
Julian, T.W., McKenry, P.C., & McKelvey, M.W. (1994). Cultural variations in parenting: Perceptions of Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American parents. Family Relations 43(1), 30-37.
LeVine, R.A., & Levine, S. (2016). Do parents matter? Why Japanese babies sleep soundly, Mexican siblings don’t fight, and American families should just relax. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.
Marvin, R.S., & Britner, P.A. (2008). Normative Development: The ontogeny of attachment. In J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaver (Eds.) Handbook of Attachment (pp.269-294). New York, NY: Guilford.
Nicholson, B., & Parker, L. (2013). How did attachment parenting originate? Attached at the heart. Retrieved from: www.attachedattheheart.attachmentparenting.org/faq/
Raby, K.L., Roisman, G.I., Labella, M.H., Martin, J., Fraley, R.C., & Simpson, J.A. (2018). The legacy of early abuse and neglect for social and academic competence from childhood to adulthood. Online first. Retrieved from https://socialinteractionlab.dl.umn.edu/sites/g/files/pua1356/f/2018/Raby%20et%20al%20%28CD%2C%202018%29.pdf
Sadler, L.S., Slade, A., & Mayes, L.C. (2006). Minding the Baby: A mentalization-based parenting Program. In J.G. Allen & P. Fonagy (Eds.), The handbook of mentalization-based treatment (pp.271-288). Chichester, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons.
Slade, A. (2014). Imagining fear: Attachment, threat, and psychic experience. Psychoanalytic Dialogues 24(3), 253-266.
Slade, A. (2005). Parental reflective functioning: An introduction. Attachment & Human Development 7(3), 269-281.
Slade, A., Sadler, L., Dios-Kenn, C.D., Webb, D., Currier-Ezepchick, J., & Mayes, L. (2005). Minding the Baby: A reflective parenting program. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 60, 74-100.
Slade, A. (2002). Keeping the baby in mind: A critical factor in perinatal mental health. Zero to Three. June/July, 10-16.
Read Full TranscriptTranscript
Jen: [00:37] Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today we have an absolutely gigantic topic together and we have a giant in the academic world to help us think through some vet as well. I’d like to welcome Dr Arietta Slade, clinical professor at the Yale Child Study Center and Professor Emeritus in the doctoral program in Clinical Psychology at the City University of New York, and she is here today to talk with us on the topic of attachment theory. She’s an internationally recognized theoretician clinician, researcher and teacher. She’s published widely on reflective parenting, the clinical implications of attachment theory, the development of parental mentalization and the relational context of early symbolization. For the last 13 years, she has co-directed Minding the Baby, which is an interdisciplinary reflective parenting home visiting program for high risk mothers, infants, and their families at the Yale Child Study Center and School of Nursing. This program is one of only 18 certified evidence based home visiting programs in the United States.
Jen: [01:37] Now, it does seem to be slightly ambitious to try and cover 60 plus years of research on attachment, which has been conducted by Dr Slade as well as other researchers in a single show, but we’re going to give it a shot. Welcome Dr Slade.
Dr. Slade: [01:49] Hello. How are you today, Jen?
Jen: [01:51] Great. Thanks so much for being with us. So I wonder if we can start all the way at the very beginning. What is attachment and why is it important?
Dr. Slade: [01:58] Well, as you indicated in your introduction, it’s both a really huge topic and a very simple set of ideas. I mean, it’s a huge topic in that it’s been studied for, as you said, 60 years and it’s actually more like 80 years, but at the same time it comprises a set of really simple and accessible ideas and the central idea in attachment theory and has guided a tremendous amount of attachment research.
Dr. Slade: [02:24] There’s three or four, several key ideas. The first is that children, infants, in particular, human infants are born with a predisposition to become connected, to attach to, the people who take care of them, you know, and this is something that is present at birth and an infant is born with a number of ways to signal the people who are caring for him or her about their needs and their desires and their needs for safety and closeness. And these are signaled very, very early on. And this is essentially a biological given that individuals are born with. And there are plenty of other mammalian species that are born with the capacity to develop attachments.
Dr. Slade: [03:00] One of the main components of detachment system is to protect the child from danger so that the child is able from early on to signal alarmed, to reach out with his hands, to look at the parent, to call to the parent saying, I need help. I need comfort, I need to be protected. And that is a very strong component of the attachment system and that, as I said, is present from birth, and the second element of the attachment system is that when the child feels safe and protected, they are also biologically predisposed to explore their environment. You know, once they feel safe, they can go out and they can explore the world and they can even when they’re infants, they can explore the world with their eyes. They can explore the world with their hands. They can explore the world with their mouths and all of these efforts or efforts to learn about the world in which they are living, you know, in which they live from day one.
Dr. Slade: [03:53] So attachment brings them close to the caregiver. It makes them feel safe. At the same time, the safety that comes from attachment allows them to go out and explore the world and learn about the world and much of their learning about the world comes through exploration of the world and then another element of their learning about the world comes through the relationship with their parents who signal to them, this is important. This is something you should know. This is something I’m interested in. This is something you should be interested in, and much of this takes place non-verbally. Some of course takes place when the child, gets older verbally, but there are a variety of ways that the parent communicates to the child. This is a world in which you and I live and these are the things in our world that it’s important for you to know, so that’s another element of the attachment system.
Jen: [04:40] I wonder if you can tell us more about what are some of those ways that parents do that, particularly the nonverbal ways they communicate with children that this is the world that we live in and these are the parameters of it.
Dr. Slade: [04:50] Well, there are a number of ways that parents communicate with infants from the earliest days, and I’m sure you know this from your own interactions with your own children, with other people that when adult speak to children, they tend to exaggerate their facial expressions. They slow down the pace of their voice, they exaggerate the vowels and their speeches is notably different and it’s been called Motherese and Baby Speech and so on for many, many years. But they do a variety of things to signal, to really pace their information at a level that the child can grasp, to pace their, you know, like, “Oh wow, that’s big” [speaking slowly].
Dr. Slade: [05:32] You know, and that slows down the pace of information because the child obviously as an infant processes things more slowly. But there are a number of ways that parents communicate things nonverbally, you know, which is that when you moved toward that part of the room, I grimace. And when you reach for that toy, I tense and when I’m holding you in my arms and you cry, I get rigid. There are all these ways that a mother or father or parent caregiver communicates through their body. This is something I want you to attend to or this is something unacceptable and there you know so much of the research over the last, I don’t know, I want to say 40 years now, 30 years on mother-child interaction and parent child interactions has really documented that there’s a whole bunch of communication that takes place between parent and child that is completely out of our view. Only when you really slow down the videotape as it were and watch that baby initiate some other looks away, baby tries again.
Dr. Slade: [06:35] Mother looks away or baby initiates. Mother expands, baby expands, mother expands. All of those things happen again at a level that we might not see with the naked eye, but is one in which babies really received communication from the environment in a number of subtle ways. The simplest way to talk about it as of course nonverbal communication, but babies know when they’re being attuned to, they know when they’re not being attuned to. You know, when the caregiver has gone flat or when the caregiver turns away or when the is disinterested and all these are powerful messages that teach the baby about the parent, about themselves, about the world.
Jen: [07:13] Yeah. I guess I, I was not terribly insightful parent when my daughter was that old. I don’t think. And it’s almost mind boggling to wonder what she might have picked up from me when she was that age.
Dr. Slade: [07:28] Well, you know, that’s really the enormous responsibility of parenting and of course there are a million things we don’t want to communicate to our children and there are a million things we communicate to them anyway, and there are a lot of wonderful things that we communicate to children and you know, it’s always important to remember that infants are enormously robust. They’re very good at reading a diverse array of signals. It takes a lot of problematic communications to really disrupt them. And it’s not as if, if you think of him as little computers, they’re very good learners, but they’re also very robust learners so that it’s not that, you know, there’s a researcher who did so much important work in this area named Daniel Stern and he’s one of the people who pioneered these micro analytic studies back in the seventies.
Dr. Slade: [08:19] One of the things he really made clear is that, you know, essentially when in an anomalous thing happens between a parent and the child and the child sort of goes at first. So that wasn’t normal. That’s not mom, you know. And if it happens again, it’s like, oh, well. And then if it happens, you know, like 40 times it’s like, oh, well maybe I need to like develop a different kind of view of this situation because there’s been enough information to make me see it differently. But in general, I think it’s burdensome for parents to feel like every little thing they do is going to change the course of their child’s life because of the fact is it’s the buildup of things over time that really make for a relationship that make for an attachment a that make for a child’s sense of who they are.
Dr. Slade: [08:59] Sixty to 70 percent of children living in low risk environments feel safe in the world, feels secure in their attachments, feel loved and taken care of and supported. And it’s not hard to feel securely attached, you know, and that most environments, depending on the culture, have ways of making children feel secure, if you know what I mean. It’s not something that’s so delicate. It’s a very robust biological system because it’s best for children if they do feel safe and taken care of and understood. And therefore there are pretty able to extract from the environment “I’m safe, I feel, you know, I’m taking care of and I feel understood.” There’s a couple more points I wanted to make while I was defining attachments. So back to that for sec. A child is born with an active attachment system, which means that depending on their age, they have a variety of signals that are age appropriate to signal the caregiver.
Dr. Slade: [09:54] One of the functions of that is to protect them from danger. Another function of the attachment...