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Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing
Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing

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3 The effects of attachment relationships on young children’s mental health and wellbeing

In relation to attachment theory, the quality of the relationship between the caregiver and young child can influence how perceptions and ideas are built up over time by the child. These ideas then form the basis of how to respond in future social relationships. If they have experienced positive, warm and loving early care, they are more likely to feel secure and worthy of love and attention from others – and be able to give others love and attention. However, experiences of being perceived to be unloved and/or rejected could lead to a child avoiding contact with both adults and other children. Excessive anger and confusion in early childhood could create a greater resistance in the child as they may become increasingly anxious and unclear about what adults and others expect of them, or whether other people can even be trusted or not.

Activity 3 What can influence the development of secure attachments?

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Jot down at least three different influences on early childcare that might have a negative impact on a child developing a secure attachment relationship.

Then think of three influences that might lessen these negative impacts.

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In terms of negative influences, you may have considered the poor mental or physical health of the carer. For example, depression or chronic illness could mean that carers may struggle to be emotionally available and responsive to the child. Parenting styles are also thought to be very important, whereby neglectful (characterised by uninvolved and disinterested parenting) and authoritarian (parenting with limited affection and harsh punishments) styles of parenting are associated with insecure attachments

However, if the carer has a good support network, caring for the child can be shared with other members, allowing more opportunity for the child to develop a wider variety of positive ‘internal working models’ around how relationships work. That is because a child can have multiple attachment figures, and an attachment figure that adopts an authoritative style (i.e. care that is responsive to the child’s emotional needs and also sets high standards for the child) for a child means that they are still likely to develop a secure attachment.

You will explore adverse childhood experiences in more detail later in this session.