Bonding and Attachment in Maltreated Children
Lesson 1: Introduction

Welcome to Bonding and Attachment in Maltreated Children.  We're glad you've decided to participate. Before we begin, here are our course objectives:

Course Objectives

1.  Provide an overview of key principles of attachment and bonding critical for healthy development.

2.  Understand how healthy attachment is facilitated and maintained.

3.  Discuss the various ways that neglect and maltreatment influence attachment.
     Learn to identify behaviors associated with attachment difficulties.

4. Discuss the role of caregivers in helping maltreated children and explore ways to help this at-risk population.



The most important property of humankind is the capacity to form and maintain relationships.  These relationships are absolutely necessary for any of us to survive, learn, work, love, and procreate.  Human relationships take many forms but the most intense, most pleasurable, and most painful are those relationships with family, friends and loved ones.  Within this inner circle of intimate relationships, we are bonded to each other with "emotional glue” --bonded with love.

Each individual's ability to form and maintain relationships using this "emotional glue" is different.  Some people seem "naturally" capable of loving.  They form numerous intimate and caring relationships and, in doing so, get pleasure.  Others are not so lucky.  They feel no "pull" to form intimate relationships, find little pleasure in being with or close to others. They have less emotional glue with family and few, if any, friends.  In extreme cases, an individual may have no intact emotional bond to any other person.  They are self-absorbed, aloof, or may even present with classic neuropsychiatric signs of being schizoid or autistic.

How do we develop the ability to connect with others?  Why are some attachments stronger than others?  What are the warning signs that a child has an impaired ability to attach?  What can poor attachment mean and why is it important in our society? 

In considering these questions, we must remember that the combination of variables that may affect attachment ability vary widely from person to person, even among siblings within the same family.  As our individual characteristics and our environmental influences interact, there are innumerable variations in how people approach, perceive, connect, and maintain relationships with others. 

The capacity and desire to form emotional relationships is related to the organization and functioning of specific parts of the human brain.  Just as the brain allows us to see, smell, taste, think, talk, and move, it is the organ that allows us to love…or not.  The systems in the human brain that allow us to form and maintain emotional relationships develop during infancy and the first years of life.  Experiences during this early, vulnerable period of life are critical to shaping the capacity to form intimate and emotionally healthy relationships. 

Just as the brain allows us to see, smell, taste, think, talk, and move, it is the organ that allows us to love…or not.

Empathy, caring, sharing, inhibition of aggression, remorse -- the capacity to love and a host of other characteristics of a healthy, happy and productive person are related to the core attachment capabilities which are formed in infancy and early childhood.

We've learned a lot in recent years about how the brain works. We are learning how significant environmental conditions are in defining an individual's emotional, behavioral, cognitive and social capabilities.

Huge portions of the human brain are devoted to social functions and communication including establishing and maintaining eye contact, reading faces, judgments and more. When a baby is born, their brain houses over one hundred billion neurons that will chart paths and make connections based on the social experiences they encounter. By the age of two and a half, approximately 85 percent of the baby's neurological growth is complete, meaning the foundation of their brain's capacity is in place. By age three, the child's brain is 90 percent of its completed adult size.

In a remarkable cycle of stimulus and response, the budding brain builds itself using chemical signals generated by vision, smell, touch, hearing and taste to activate and organize the neural cells that make up its tissue and determine the brain's capacity to process, retain and respond to information.




Every adult needs a child to teach, it's the way adults learn.

- Frank A. Clark 


Learning Love

Parents alone should not feel that they are the only ones that can make these neural cells click. Young children benefit a great deal from interacting with multiple caregivers -- each who offer something different in learning experiences and love.  Nowadays, families average only four persons to a house and on top of that, siblings typically sleep in separate bedrooms. They have their own TVs and computer games. As our world becomes more compartmentalized, the quality and quantity of time with family and friends becomes more important than ever before.

So what happens if a baby does not get the quality social interaction and loving that they need in the first few years of life?  The young child's undeveloped brain is trained in a 'use dependent' way, mirroring the pattern, timing, nature, frequency and quality of experience.  Think of it in terms of nutrition. If a baby is not fed consistent, predictable messages of love and communication, then those areas of the brain shut down and the child's capacity to function later in life is compromised.

Experiences in childhood act as the primary architects of the brain's capabilities throughout the rest of life. If these organizing childhood experiences are consistent, nurturing, structured and enriched, the child develops the ability to be flexible, responsible and a sensitive contributor to society as an adult.  However, if childhood experiences are neglectful, chaotic, even violent and abusive, the child could become aggressive, remorseless, and intellectually impoverished.

This course will explore the nature of attachment as well as the factors that influence or interfere with its development.  It will give special attention to the impact of child maltreatment on healthy attachment capabilities.  Finally, it will review strategies to help children whose early experiences deprive them of the essential human capacity to connect to others in optimal ways.

Assignment # 1

List the three to four of your most important relationships. 

Reflect on how these relationships formed and why.  How are they similar to each other and how do they differ? 

As you proceed during the different sections of this course, consider how the information presented here can be applied to your own experiences.













Silence is
the real conversation between friends. It is not the said but the not needing to be said that matters most.

- Anon


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