Bonding and Attachment in Maltreated Children

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Lesson 2: Frequently Asked Questions about Bonding and Attachment
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The acts of holding, rocking, singing, feeding, gazing, kissing, and other nurturing behaviors involved in caring for infants and young children are bonding experiences.  Factors crucial to bonding include time together (in childhood, quantity does matter!), face-to-face interactions, eye contact, physical proximity, touch, and other primary sensory experiences such as smell, sound, and taste. Scientists believe the most important factor in creating attachment is positive physical contact (e.g., hugging, holding, and rocking).  It should be no surprise that holding, gazing, smiling, kissing, singing, and laughing all cause specific neurochemical activities in the brain.  These neurochemical activities lead to normal organization of brain systems that are responsible for attachment.

An essential ingredient of bonding is attunement.  Attunement is being aware of and responsive to another.  This sensitivity to others depends on our attention to non-verbal communication.

The majority of human communication is non-verbal.  In fact, without our being aware of it, a huge percentage of what our brains perceive in communication with others is non-verbal signals: eye movements, facial gestures, tone of voice, the move of a hand, or tip of the head.  Even as one area of the brain is processing and attending to the words in an interaction, other areas are continually focusing on and responding to the non-verbal actions that accompany the words. From this process, a child can literally sense your interest, your approval, and your enthusiasm.

Communication and interaction are both greatly influenced by our internal state.  Our bodies and our minds move through predictable rhythms driven by powerful physiological processes.  Sleep and wake; hunger and satiety--the human brain's capacity to focus, listen, learn, and communicate is shaped by the symphony of dozens of patterns of rhythmic biological activity. They create, in any given moment, a person's internal state.  In some of these states, we are attentive and receptive (e.g., when calm or satisfied), while in other states, we are incapable of learning (e.g., when exhausted, asleep, sad, or afraid).  In order to be attuned to someone, we must interpret both their verbal and non-verbal cues--reflections of their powerful physiological rhythms.


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