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John Bowldy:
Theory of Emotional
Attachment

John Bowldy was a British psychoanalyst who developed the attachment theory in children.
John Bowldy: Theory of Emotional Attachment
Bowldy's early work with children led him to develop a strong interest in the subject of child development.

He became particularly interested in how separation from caregivers impacted children.

After studying the subject for some time, he began to develop his ideas on the importance of attachment on child development.

Bowldy articulated that...

  • Children need a close continuous relationship with the mother for successful personality development

  • The child must form an attachment by about 6 months of age; after that and until the age of 3 years children strongly need to be close by their mothers
  • The formation of emotional attachments contributes to the foundation of later emotional and personality development, and the type of behaviour toward familiar adults shown by children has some continuity with the social behaviours they will show later in life
  • Events that interfere with attachment, such as abrupt separation of the child from familiar people or the significant inability of carers to be sensitive, responsive or consistent in their interactions, have short-term and possible long-term negative impacts on the child's emotional and cognitive life
  • Any obstacle to forming an attachment and any disruption of the relationship constitutes material deprivation.

Bowldy stressed that children need one central person who is the 'mother figure'.

Secure attachment and continuous relationships are far more likely to be provided with the child's natural family than anywhere else.

Bowldy was also interested in finding out the actual patterns of family interaction involved in both healthy and pathological development.

He focused on how attachment difficulties were transmitted from one generation to the next.

In his development of attachment theory, John Bowldy propounded the idea that attachment behaviour was essentially an evolutionary survival strategy for protecting an infant from predators.

In Bowldy's approach, an infant is considered to have a need for a secure relationship with adult caregivers, without which normal social and emotional development will not occur.

According to attachment theory infants become attached to adults who are sensitive and responsive in social interactions with them, and who remain as consistent caregivers for some months during the period from about 6 months to three years of age.

Parental responses lead to the development of patterns of attachment which in turn lead to 'internal working models' which will guide the child's feelings, thoughts, and expectations in later relationships.

As the child grows, it uses its attachment figure or figures as a "secure base" from which to explore.

The attachment process is not gender specific as babies will form attachments to any consistent caregiver who is sensitive and responsive in social interactions with them.

John Bowldy's research on attachment and child development left a lasting impression on psychology, education, childcare and parenting.

Researchers extended his research to develop clinical treatment techniques and prevention strategies.

His work also influenced other eminent psychologists, including his colleague Mary Ainsworth.

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