Child Development

Chapter 3

Now that we have looked at the process of pregnancy and delivery, I want to cover three additional important areas. First we will look again that old saying about children being born blank slates. Not only doesn't this take into consideration innate personality traits, it also implys that when we are born we are unable to do anything. This is just not so.

From the moment of birth, we can already do many things that help insure our basic survival. At birth babies are able to focus their glance at between 6 and 10 inches. This is the exact distance from the mother's nipple and her face. In this way the baby is not only better able to see the nipple, but he can gaze at his mother while he is nursing. This helps to increase the process of attachment, which we will cover in a moment.

To also increase the odds of survival at birth babies are able to follow a moving object with their eyes. This makes it easier for them to locate the nipple. They also come equipped with the rooting reflex. This reaction to begin sucking as soon as something lightly touches their face anywhere near their mouths, increases their odds of surviving. Newborn babies are also able to differentiate the smell of their mother from other mothers. This also helps to increase the attachment process.

By one week of age babies can differentiate between the smell of their own mother's milk and the smell of milk from another mother. This ability is an important part of the attachment process as is the other abilities they have by the age of one week to show a preference for the human face and voice, as well as the ability to distinguish their mother by her voice. All of these innate and very early abilities are directly related to the importance of attachment, which greatly increases the baby's possibility of surviving.

Attachment itself also contributes to the child's sense of security (with a secure attachment) or insecurity (with a insecure attachment) and to their future mental health. Research in this area started with Harry Harlow, whose intial research is covered well by your text. Since that time,psychologists who have done elaborate research into this area of attachment have shown distinct differences in behavior between babies who are securely attached, those who are avoidantly attached, and those who are ambivalently attached.

When they are one year old, those infants who are securely attached readily explore a new environment, using their mother as a secure base. They will explore away from their mother, occasionally glancing over to reassure themselves that she is still there. They cry much less than babies who are less securely attached and they are most compliant with the mother's wishes.

Those one-year-olds who are avoidantly attached to their mothers seek little physical contact with her. They are randomly angry with her, unresponsive to being held, but often upset when put down. They will, however, leave her to explore a new environment and will not notice if she leaves the room, or when she returns. They also avoid their mothers when they are upset and do not seek her for comfort.

Those babies who are ambivalently attached cry a lot, are clingy and demanding. They are often angry and are upset by even small separations from their mothers. They are chronically anxious in relation to their mother, which severely limits their exploration of the world. In general, they are angry at their mothers, while simulataneously seeking comfort from her.

This difference between children continues into preschool by again demonstrating very different behavioral patterns. The securely attached child easily makes friends and is popular with other children. They are flexible and resilient under any stress, and appear to have good self-esteem.

In contrast to this, avoidantly attached preschoolers are often angry, aggressive and defiant. They tend to be isolated from the other children and disliked by them. They tend to hang around their teachers, instead of other children. When in either physical or emotional pain, these children withdraw from others and refuse any signs of comfort from others.

Ambivalently attached children also tend to cling to teachers and are overly dependent on them. These children tend to be easily overwhelmed by anxiety and are generally immature in their nature. Because of this they may be victimized by bullies -- which most often are those children who are avoidantly attached.

These basic personality and behavioral differences continue throughout their life into adulthood. As adults, the securely attached child becomes a secure adult. They have easy access to a wide range of feelings and memories, both positive and negative. They tend to have a balanced view of their parents and they tend to have a securely attached child. They make up about 70% of babies, children and adults.

The other 30% of babies are divided into those who are avoidantly attached and ambivalently attached. As adults, those individuals who were/are avoidantly attached tend to dismiss love and connection to others, believing that neither are of any importance. They also tend to idealize their parents and their actual memories don't corrobarate. In general, they have only shallow, if any, self-regulation.

Because of all of these reasons, they usually have an avoidantly attached child. They can only give what they received.

Those children who were ambivalently attached tend to become preoccupied adults. They are still angry and hurt at their parents. They are unable to take any of their own responsibility in relationships, while at the same time being very clingy and terrified of abandonment. In turn, they tend to have children who are also ambivalently attached.

If you are interested in learning more about the importance of the attachment process, an excellant book on the subject is Becoming Attached by Robert Karen, Ph.D.

The last area of importance I wanted to cover here is parenting skills. Parenting is the single most important job in the world, yet we receive very little training or information about it. We don't have to take classes, read books or pass any tests. And yet, nothing you do in your life will be as important or as rewarding as being a parent. I, therefore, strongly encourage parents-to-be to do their homework before the baby comes into their lives. It will make raising that child easier on both them and the child.

The one area that parents seem to need the most help is with discipline. Discipline is very important. Its like we have invited you to come play this new game called Life. How will you cope if I don't tell you the rules or if the rules keep changing, or only enforced some of the time and other times it doesn't really matter. How secure do you think you will be. So decide what the rules will be before time and also decide what the punishment for breaking these rules will be.

In reality, children only disobey for three reasons: (1) they really didn't know or understand the rule to begin with; (2) they are looking for attention and will go for negative attention if they can't get positive attention; and, (3) they want you to get into a power struggle with them.

So it would seem that the first thing we need to do as parents is to make sure that our children know what the rules are, that they are consistent (they don't change and you enforce them everytime) and that as a parent, you follow-through everytime. You can't have something a rule sometimes and not other times. You can't have something a rule one day and not the other. You can't enforce the rule sometimes and not others. You can't say that you are going to put them in time-out, take away a privilege, etc. and then not do anything. When we do these kind of things, we are teaching our kids that the world is a crazy, inconsistent place and that they have to try to get away with whatever they can.

Then we need to remember that children love our attention, regardless of what kind of attention it is. If we really want to encourage good behavior, we would reward the behavior we want and, as much as possible, ignore the behavior we don't want to see. If we give children positive attention for positive behavior, they don't need to look for ways to behave negatively to insure they get attention, even if it is negative attention.

Lastly, remember to never get into a power struggle with a child. That would be a lot like trying to teach a pig to sing. It will only make you frustrated and your child upset.

The last word I have regarding child development is to let you know that physical punishment is never, never, never appropriate or necessary. Surely you can think of a more effective means of disciplining your child than beating them. It is never appropriate to touch a child when you are angry. If you do, that is abuse. Corporal punishment has never been proven as being effective in teaching a child how to behave. Instead, children who have received corporal punishment in the long run, are less prone to obey. Instead, they are more angry and aggressive than children who are not disciplined with physical punishment. Corporal punishment causes pent-up feelings of resentment and the dangerous belief that once you are big enough, power and physical force are the only means to get your way in the world.

In addition, research shows that the psychological effects of physical punishment range from apathy to obsessiveness, paranoia, and extreme disassociation. Adults who received physical punishment as children, are more vulnerable later in life to a variety of mental health problems, inclduing depression and alcoholism. In addition, children who are physically punished tend to be more aggressive with other children and have difficulties maintaining good social relationships.

Effective discipline can be achieved through the use of timeouts, withdrawing of privileges, taking away things the child enjoys, or by "benching" or "grounding" them. Just remember that the most effective discipline is to reward the behavior you want to see and that the most effective reward is your positive attention.

Well, I think you are now ready to answer this week's individual question. See you in the next section.