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An introduction to social work
An introduction to social work

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Disrupted attachments

In the next activity you will be reading more about the emotional needs of young children and their reactions when their early attachments become disrupted.

Activity 7 Emotional needs

Timing: Allow 20 minutes to complete

Read ‘Who cares? The emotional needs of young children’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , by Fagan.

  • What are some of the responses that Fagan suggests children can have to early adverse experiences?
  • Were any of these surprising or new to you? Which ones?
  • Are any of these reactions familiar to you from your own experiences with children that you know or have worked with?
  • What emotions are they likely to evoke in someone else?
  • This article talks about the ‘mother’ as the primary care giver – how did you feel about that?
  • What effect might disrupted attachments have on people as adults?
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Fagan suggests that children can respond to not having their early needs met in a number of different ways, such as:

  1. by not caring and withdrawing, trying to avoid feelings of disappointment, loss, anger or frustration

  2. by pushing boundaries

  3. by demanding total attention and possession

  4. by pushing away intimacy

  5. by becoming aggressive.

While some of these behaviours might be familiar to you, others might be less so.

Although this article talks about the ‘mother’ as the primary care giver, attachment research now shows that early on in a baby’s life it is responsive care from a consistent care giver which is most important; and it does not have to be a biological parent to whom a baby becomes attached. Who looks after a child in babyhood might well be determined by culture and circumstance. Infants can also form attachments to more than one care giver, although these might have different levels of intensity. Babies seem to start to discriminate between caregivers between the ages of three and six months. While Fagan talks about children and adolescents, it is important to keep in mind that attachment theory can be used as a framework for understanding biographies and histories at any point in a person’s life.