Supporting children's development
Supporting children's development

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Supporting children's development

1.2 Some child development theories

Some people find theory a bit heavy going, although it is important in understanding child development. You do not have to spend long on the theory at this stage of your studies. The external links are optional and not included in the study time for this section.

Mali was less attached to Siân, her mother, than Siân would have liked because of Mali’s close attachment to her grandmother. Attachments are emotional bonds made between a young child and the people most involved with them. The reliability and consistency of care a baby receives appropriate to their needs impacts on how secure they feel in their attachments; if they feel secure, a firm bond is likely to be established with the person giving that care. However, inconsistency and unpredictability in a relationship can make a child feel very insecure, and this will have a negative impact on how well a bond is formed.

By 6 to 12 months a baby is capable of making a firm emotional relationship (attachment) with others and once an attachment is formed the baby becomes wary of strangers and upset if separated from the person(s) they are attached to.

Attachment theory and the Strange Situation Test

The Strange Situation Test has been used by child psychologists in Western Europe and the USA for many years to assess the quality of attachment relationships in young children. This has usually been done with mothers as the main carers.

Activity 3

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Watch this video clip of the Strange Situation Test being carried out on baby Lisa by a psychologist. The video clip shows that baby Lisa is securely attached to her mother.

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The Strange Situation – Mary Ainsworth

But can the essential elements of home life be translated into a standard laboratory setting for controlled scientific study?
After conducting extensive observations of parents and children at home, a student of Bowlby’s – Mary Ainsworth – devised such a procedure called ‘the strange situation’, which places the child under some stress. It has become the most widely used standardised way to assess the quality of a child’s attachment to their care giver.
Here the researchers are recording how 14-month-old Lisa responds in this attractive but unfamiliar setting. How will she react to a stranger? What will happen when her mother leaves the room – and when she returns?
It’s Lisa’s behaviour when her mother returns – what psychologists call ‘the reunion’ – that they are particularly interested in.
Most importantly is to look for the type of balance that a child strikes between an attachment need and on the other hand to explore the play material.
Once Lisa has settled down to play, a stranger enters the room and sits in the chair reading a magazine.
After a couple of minutes the stranger attempts to interact with Lisa.
Soon after, Lisbeth gets a cue to leave the room. [Lisa starts crying]
The stranger tries to comfort Lisa – but in vain.
Lisbeth comes back into the room and the camera records how Lisa reacts.
Now the first part of the procedure is over and Lisbeth settles Lisa down again. The stranger leaves them alone together.
And soon after Lisbeth goes too. Lisa is on her own – her distress is plain to see.
Once again the efforts of the stranger to console Lisa are to no avail.
But Lisbeth manages to calm her almost at once and shortly afterwards the observation ends.
Lisa showed outward signs of what’s called secure attachment.
End transcript
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The Strange Situation Test has been criticised on several counts – for example, it cannot be easily repeated. The research has been mainly carried out on Western European and American children, so interpretations of what secure relationships should be like are very specific to European–American cultures.

There are societies and ethnic/cultural groups where babies are not encouraged to explore, play away from family or show curiosity, so would not behave in this way when young (Cole, 1998). In assessments of the security of their relationships, therefore, these babies may be wrongly assessed as being not secure.


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