Raising a Difficult Child to Success: Infancy–Temperament and Attachment
Attachment studies by Mary Ainsworth called the “Strange Situation” placed enough stress on the 12-to 18-month-old babies being studied to expose their level of attachment to their caregivers. In the study room the caregiver would spend time with the child and then exit, followed by a stranger entering the room, then exiting. Upon return of the caregiver, various levels of attachment were observed. The important finding was that the infant’s behavior when the parent left the room could be predicted by his or her temperament. A fussy baby would cry and react much more intensely to the caregiver exit than a typically calm baby. The baby’s response to the parent’s return to the room was an important indicator of the parent’s sensitivity towards their child and the child’s temperament. Strong attachment bonds would result in the baby being soothed much more quickly upon the parent’s return and even whether the baby would then feel calm enough to explore the room. Parents who have sensitively reacted to their baby’s temperament have created a “secure base” in their baby (Hinshaw, 2010).
If studies have shown that 60-65% of infants are securely attached to their parents, with a third or more not securely attachment, this indicates how extremely important the understanding between parents and their child’s temperament is (Hinshaw, 2010). Yet, how many parents have never considered their child’s temperament, or worse, don’t care about it? It can be daunting to consider the toll on human development as children grow up misunderstood by their parents or punished for their temperament. On the other hand, children who have less than easy temperaments but are understood and nurtured by their parents have much better odds of healthy psychological development. The connection between temperament and attachment, the “goodness of fit”, is one that should not be overlooked since it can be so crucial to individual development and success. This term does not mean that a parent’s temperament needs to match or fit his or her child’s, but that the parent is sensitive to the child’s temperament and responds in the most positive and consistent way possible.
As someone who successfully raised a daughter who met all of the criteria of a “difficult child” and is now a happy, successful and dynamic adult, I can confidently quote the words of temperament expert Dr. Stanley Turecki, the author of The Difficult Child, a book that became my family’s daily guide in the 1980s. “Not every difficult child is destined for greatness. Each one, however, deserves the opportunity to realize his potential. The techniques and principles in this book will help to provide this chance for your child. Try always to apply them in an atmosphere of kindness and love. Respect the child, appreciate his strengths and abilities, and always remember that he is an individual. As time goes on, who know what dreams can come true for your child” (Turecki, 1989).
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