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At a child care center, a toddler is clinging to her mother and crying as they enter. The mother pulls the child's hands from her arm, saying, "Don't be such a crybaby. Be a big girl and go play." In a pediatrician's waiting room, a 2-year-old climbs dangerously high on the furniture then throws a toy at his mother when she tentatively calls his name. His mother laughs nervously and says under her breath, "I just don't know what to do with him." In a family's kitchen, a child yanks on a locked kitchen cabinet while his father is cooking. The father kneels next to his son and says calmly, "Oh! I see you are trying to get into this cabinet. But the glass pans in there are off limits. Let's make a drawer over here with some plastic kitchen things for you. You can play with them while Daddy cooks."
Day by day, as children grow and develop, they form unique relationships with their parents or primary caregivers. Practitioners working with young children and their families frequently ask about the role of child-parent relationships and about how they can support these relationships to nurture children's overall development. One theory about child development--attachment theory--can be extremely useful for considering early relationships between young children and their parents and how to support them.
What are attachments?
According to attachment theory, attachments are preferential, lasting emotional ties between infants and their caregivers. All infants will develop an attachment if they have a caregiver, even if the caregiver is harsh or abusive. A few exceptions exist, such as children raised in institutional settings without specific caregivers. Thus, rather than describing a child as being attached or not, or "very" attached or not, attachment theory and …