Are children doomed from the very beginning if they do not form a strong attachment to their caregivers in the first 18 months of their lives?
Valerie, Thanks for your question. When we learn about the importance of one-on-one interaction, connection, and consistent caregiving in early childhood, it certainly raises the question - what about the children who did not get these experiences when they needed it? Is it too late for them?
Absolutely not! One of the marvels of the human brain is that it is remarkably "plastic." This is the neuroscientific term meaning that our brains can always adapt and "rewire." While forming a good attachment relationship is very important for infants, we can overcome deficits with consistent responses that are attuned, attentive, responsive and loving.
It is helpful to adjust caregiver expectations because children may "test" the security of that relationship. In addition to love, these children also need consistent, firm and predictable limits and consequences. I explain these strategies at length in my book No. Why Children-of All Ages-Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It.
Families with a child whose early circumstances may have interfered with early optimal attachment can really benefit from working with an infant /early childhood mental health professional. Children whose early experiences complicated attachment (and there are many reasons for this, including health challenges, family stresses, adoption, etc.) often give very confusing cues to their caregivers and support and guidance to parents from a professional who is experienced in this area can be very helpful.
Thanks for your question,
Dr. Dave Walsh and Michele Fallon, M.S.W., LICSW