According to the attachment theory, infants are biologically compelled to stay close to a protective adult for survival. When a child can trust their caregiver for protection, they become a secure base for the child.
Being a secure base means being available when needed. A secure caregiver is available when the child needs help removing obstacles when they need to retreat to safety, when they are in distress, and when they are in need.
On the other hand, for young children whose caregiving is marked by chronic distress, conflict, maltreatment, emotional unavailability, misattunement, loss of their attachment figure, or a combination of these, their view of the world and of themselves in the world is likely to be compromised. Their inability to use their attachment figures for physical and emotional safety may contribute to maladaptive relational patterns, insecure attachment, and risk factors associated with poor or compromised developmental outcomes (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Green et al., 2007).
Infant and early childhood mental health and early childhood education are multidisciplinary fields and ECEs are well positioned to promote IECMH through their roles with the children and families in their care. ECEs, as caregivers of children for many hours each day, are key professionals in promoting and sustaining IECMH and contributing to social and emotional development. Early childhood education provides opportunities for children to expand their attachment relationships, express and explore emotions, and explore their environments and learn. ECEs and quality early childhood programs (both center- and family-based settings) have the potential to foster positive, trusting relationships with parents and caregivers and to be seen as an important and necessary community resource. Building positive relationships with families enables the ECE to support their concerns and to partner with their strengths. The role of the ECE in holding parents in mind so that those parents can provide optimal nurturing and attuned care to their young children is critical in upholding a caregiving environment that supports the optimal health and development of infants and young children.
The study scored mother-baby pairs based on a mother's responses to the infant while the baby was crying and not crying to assess the qualities of \"secure base provision.\" This framework focuses on aspects of caregiving that tell an infant about the caregiver's availability to serve as a secure base, such as soothing to cessation of crying and providing a present and safe base from which to explore.
Researchers found that this framework significantly predicted infant attachment, and that babies learned their mothers were providing a secure base when mothers responded properly at least 50 percent of the time.
Infant attachment is the bond infants form with their primary caregiver. A secure attachment allows babies to feel safe, which gives them both comfort in times of distress and the ability to explore, knowing they can return to their secure base when needed. Attachment is an infant's first bond with important caregivers and a critical phase in development, with a major impact on emotional and social development.
Numerous studies have shown the importance of secure infant attachment to developmental outcomes. But, for the past 30 years, the actual building blocks leading to attachment have been unresolved. Caregiver \"sensitivity\" -- the ability to accurately interpret infant needs and to respond promptly and appropriately -- was shown to be a key predictor of attachment. But studies showed sensitivity accounts for a surprisingly low percentage of variation in attachment, and has an even lower impact among families with low socioeconomic status.
\"That's a real problem, because low-income babies face the most amount of risk, toxic stress and other factors that go along with being low income,\" Woodhouse said. Data suggest secure attachment may serve a protective function in children's socio-emotional development when in a context of high risk. Secure attachment is associated with better mental health outcomes in both childhood and adulthood -- including less incidence of externalizing behaviors such as acting out and internalizing behaviors such as depression and anxiety -- as well as greater school readiness.
Woodhouse's study seeks to address this critical gap in understanding what leads to secure attachment, through examining whether a new conceptualization of caregiving behavior, \"secure base provision\" -- the degree to which a caregiver is able to meet an infant's needs on both sides of the attachment-exploration continuum -- predicts attachment security in infants. It is the first time this conceptualization has been tested separately from sensitivity and as a predictor of infant attachment. The new way of conceptualizing caregiving focuses on the aspects of caregiving that theoretically should be most important to building infant attachment because of what an infant can learn from them about a caregiver's availability to serve as a secure base for the infant -- both when the infant needs comforting and when the infant is focused on exploring.
As frameworks, both sensitivity and secure base provision look at how caregivers perceive, interpret and appropriately respond to infant signals; and, in both, important infant signals occur at each end of the attachment-exploration continuum. But secure base provision looks only at certain key infant signals and more specific caregiver responses. It also focuses much less on prompt response and more on crying resolution (the ratio of infant crying episodes that end in chest-to-chest soothing until the infant is fully calmed, regardless of promptness).
Secure base provision also does not consider attunement to a baby's state and mood in a moment-by-moment manner, as the sensitivity framework does. \"Attunement is not key because the focus is on what the infant learns about his or her ability to, in the end, recruit the caregiver when needed -- even in the context of a fair degree of insensitive behavior,\" such as not picking up the baby right away, or saying, \"Come on, don't cry,\" to the baby, the researchers said. \"It is this infant learning about the availability of the caregiver to be recruited to provide a secure base (more often than not) that is central to the construct.\"
Specifically, secure base provision looks at the degree to which a parent, on average, soothes a crying infant to a fully calm and regulated state while in chest-to-chest contact. \"It is at the end of each crying episode that the infant learns about whether, on average, the caregiver can be counted on to be available as the infant achieves a calm state or whether the infant typically must stop crying alone,\" the researchers said.
During infant exploration and other times when the infant is not distressed, the secure base provision approach focuses on whether the caregiver allows exploration to occur without terminating or interrupting it -- for example, by making the baby cry through play that is too sudden or rough -- and on \"calm connectedness,\" which communicates the mother's ongoing availability if needed for regulation or protection: \"I am here if you need me, and you can count on me.\"
In addition, there are behaviors that caregivers must not do, either when the baby needs comfort or during exploration, in order for secure base provision to occur. Specifically, caregivers must not frighten the baby or fail to protect the baby when real hazards are present, such as another child who is too rough.
The researchers found the new maternal caregiving concept of secure base provision correlated significantly with infant attachment security: mothers who had higher scores on secure base provision were more likely to have more securely attached infants, with an effect eight times larger than that of sensitivity, based on a meta-analysis of findings for low socioeconomic-status families. This was true, even after controlling for maternal sensitivity. They also found that \"maternal sensitivity\" did not significantly predict infant attachment security.
Research suggests that infants demonstrate statistical learning to identify complex underlying patterns in stimuli, the researchers said. \"Thus, we expected that infants whom caregivers soothed from crying to calm in a chest-to-chest position for at least half of the observed episodes of infant crying would learn that, on average, they could trust their caregivers to provide a secure base,\" they said, which they found to be true.
Interestingly, overprotective-type behaviors, such as moms who don't let the baby explore more than an arm's length away, or interrupting or redirecting play (except for safety) also contributed to insecure baby attachment. \"Some moms really had trouble allowing the baby to explore and were very insistent on the baby doing certain things or turning the baby's head to look at the mom,\" Woodhouse said. \"In really intrusive parenting, if we saw that, the baby was insecure.\"
One application of the findings is improving effectiveness of intervention programs that aim to increase secure infant attachment. The results indicate that low socioeconomic-status mothers who do a better job of providing a secure base increase their infants' chances of developing a secure attachment from about 30% to 71%; while low-SES mothers who fail to provide a secure base decrease their infants' chances of developing a secure relationship from about 71% to 30%.
Methods of engaging an infant in calm, regulating connectedness, such as being available for eye contact without actively making eye contact and carrying an infant on the hip during daily tasks, also promote secure attachment in the baby, they said.
Focusing on the secure base also avoids emphasizing the importance of parenting practices that are often associated with white, middle-class populations, such as moment-to-moment attunement, prompt responses, sweet tone of voice and affectionate verbal comments. The new approach \"captures strengths that can be present in parents who may be under economic strain or who ascribe to 'no-nonsense parenting,''' the researchers said. This also makes the secure base provision approach potentially more culturally sensitive and likely to be accepted across diverse low socioeconomic-status families. 59ce067264