Bonding & the Emotional Needs of Children
Janae B. Weinhold. Ph.D
emotional needs initially get met thru their relationships with adult caregivers via reciprocal interactions involving giving & receiving love.
interaction is also known as bonding, an interactive process that occurs thru repeated daily interactions such as:
emotionally charged exchanges between children & those who care for them. If these emotional exchanges are love-based, the child learns to trust. If they're fear-based, the child learns to distrust.
specific kinds of interplay between the child & caregivers, such as eye contact, touch, holding, talking & singing
& mirroring or recognizing the child’s unique qualities. Secure bonding creates feelings of safety & predictability & forms the foundation for positive mental health.
Children who are
securely bonded act self-confident, have strong self-esteem & function at high levels socially, emotionally, mentally & physically.
They're able to
engage in reciprocal relationships where they can both give & receive love, are compassionate, express concern about the feelings & needs of others, have well-developed creativity & cooperate with both other children & adults.
Securely bonded children are often seen as “successful” without people recognizing that their success sets on a strong foundation of bondedness with adult caregivers.
Children who are
insecurely bonded tend to be:
is an unsafe & unpredictable state that develops as a result of living in a fear-based environment.
It's the primary cause
of addictions, “attachments” to things & the underlying cause of impaired mental health.
The 2 primary kinds of
insecure bonding are
avoidant bonding may appear:
Instead, they learn how
usually don't seek solace from their caregivers
when experiencing distress
This premature autonomy
& emotional distancing, often disguised as hurt & anger, inhibit a child's long-term capacity for vulnerability & eventually become a barrier to intimacy.
Children with anxious/ambivalent bonding tend to pursue contact with others but also fear it. They tend to engage adults
Internally they feel caught between two conflicting
their desire for contact with their caregiver
their feelings of anger about her unavailability
or inability to meet their needs in timely, appropriate ways
This internal conflict is expressed by an initial act of contact with the caregiver followed by a resistance to it.
The primary difference
between these 2 types of insecure bonding is that the anxious/ambivalently bonded child
desires contact with the caregiver, while the avoidant child guards against it.
Speak to Me of Love - By Alvah Parker
Dovid Grossman, a coach and
father of nine, recently told me that his father and he had fought constantly through his growing up years. Through it all,
his mother was the referee. Finally when Dovid was 17 years old he sat down with his father and said, “I want to have
a close relationship with you.” He was flabbergasted when his father said, “I’ve tried to do that your whole
life but I don’t know how.”
The conversation made a strong impression on me because I too had a stormy
relationship with my father. I tell people I had sibling rivalry with my father!
Gary Chapman, pastor and marriage
counselor, noticed that if you want to truly connect with your loved one you need to know and speak his or her love language.
A love language is the way we express our devotion and commitment, and it can be learned or changed to touch the hearts of
Chapman says there are 5 Love Languages. They are:
· Receiving Gifts – Presents and physical
tokens of affection move you.
· Quality Time – This can be expressed either through those intimate tête-à-tête discussions
or via doing things together.
· Acts of Service – You prefer to show your love through favors and chores and doing
things for others.
· Physical Touch – You want to give and/or receive affection physically.
· Words of Affirmation
– You need to hear praise to know you are loved, and you may also prefer to express your affection verbally.
has a preferred love language. Most of us just naturally assume that because we like to have love expressed to us in a certain
way that the other person wants to have it expressed to him or her in that same way.
Now that I think about it my
father was a hugger but I preferred going on outings with him and hearing him praise me. It is no wonder that we struggled!
Perhaps something similar happened between Dovid and his father.
Gary Chapman has written several books on the topic.
One The Five Love Languages is for couples; there are also volumes that address men, singles, children and teenagers.
March 15th Gary will be interviewed by Dovid about the book The Five Love Languages for Teenagers on a teleclass (class that
is given on the telephone) sponsored by Coachville.com. (Check their website for more information.)
Dovid also started
a group called Awesome Dads at Coachville (www.AwesomeDads.com), because after his experience he realized that most fathers
want to connect powerfully on a deep emotional level with their children. His group meets regularly by telephone to discuss
various proficiencies of fatherhood.
Are you interested in “Connecting powerfully on a deep emotional level”?
If so Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages may provide you with the tools to do just that.
Compliment Your Child -
By Judy H. Wright, parent educator
Do you know how to compliment your child? Strangely enough, many parents don’t.
If you only heard criticism growing up, you may need to learn the words and actions in order to build the self esteem and
character of your child.
Combine the compliment with a smile or hug
Verbal language is the communication of
information and may not always be heard or remembered. Body language is the communication of relationships and will be stored
in minds and hearts long after the actual fact. By combining a hug, pat on the back or warm touch on the arm to indicate approval,
you have extended the life of a compliment forever. Remember, it is not how you feel about your child; it is how your child
perceives you feel about him that is important.
Say words to show you care
Wow—Way to go—I trust
you—You are fun to be with—Well done—You mean a lot to me—You are really a good friend—Hey,
you figured it out, I knew you would—I have confidence in you—You make me so happy—You make me laugh with
your jokes—That is neat handwriting—You are really getting better at that—You are really on your way—Good
for you—I was proud of you today—That was hard and you did it anyway—That was great to see you keep trying—You
really showed how kind you were today—You mean a lot to me—Excellent job—You really know how to listen—You
really brighten my day—It is such a pleasure to see how you treat other people-You are on your way—Good job—You
have the secret—Hurrah for you—You are such a sharp dresser-What an imagination—You’re growing up—I
really respect you—Thanks for being you-Awesome.
Look for the positive
For every thing a child does wrong,
he or she does 19 things right! Don’t just focus on what needs correcting, but on what needs encouraging. Try to see
how many nice things you say to your child and your self in a 24 hour period. By acknowledging your own successes, you help
your child to look for the positive and recognize when things go right. I challenge you to compliment his or her efforts at
least 6 times a day.
You can do it. I believe in you.
This article was written by Judy H. Wright, a parent
educator, author and international speaker from Missoula, MT. She can be reached at 406-549-9813 For other free articles and
special reports as well as a complete listing of books, CD’s, and workshops on the journey of life please see http://www.JudyWright@ArtichokePress.com
to schedule a workshop please contact her at JudyWright@www.MontanaSpeakers.com
How to Say “I Love You” with Meaning - By Chick Moorman & Thomas Haller
“I love you” are three words all children
need to hear often from their parents. Do you want those words to have real meaning to your child? Do you want them to connect
one heart to another? Do you want to use these words to develop a level of intimacy in your family that communicates your
heartfelt affection for your children? If so, consider strengthening I love you with the following suggestions.
Use eye contact. Give your children your eyes when you say, “I love you.” Souls touch when meaningful eye contact
is made during moments of intimacy. Touch with your eyes. It’s a way of connecting that helps you bond.
A pat on the back, a hug, or a high-five will add meaning to verbal expressions of love. So will a slight squeeze of the shoulder
or a kiss. Take your child’s hand in yours when you say, “I love you,” and add a tactile component to your
3.) Use names. The sweetest sound in any language is the sound of your own name. Names get our attention and
build connectedness. Sadly, some children only hear their own names when they are in trouble. (“William, you better
get in here!”) Add your child’s name to your expression of love. “I love you, Carlos,” or “Shingo,
I really love you.” Watch their reactions. Their facial expressions will encourage you to continue the practice of adding
your child’s name to “I love you.”
4.) Use the words son and daughter. These two words can add intense
intimacy to your verbal expressions of love. “I love you, son” or “I love you, daughter” will create
an emotion-filled statement that will invite an equally emotional response. Monitor your personal comfort level as you use
these two important words. Notice your feelings as you say them, as well as the reaction you get from your children.
Add nonverbal signals to your spoken message. Smile, wink, and add pleasant facial expressions to your words. Make sure the
message on your face is congruent with the one coming out of your mouth.
6.) Do not use the word when as part of your
vocal communication of love. “I love you when you smile like that” or “When you choose that happy mood,
I love you” sends a message to your children that your love is conditional. What children often hear is “I only
love you when….” To love unconditionally, say “I love you” without any condition attached.
Remove the word but from your description of love. “I love you, but….” is usually followed by a concern,
problem, or frustration. When we express our love along with a concern, we send a mixed message. When we do this, children
get confused and conclude that the love part is a manipulation intended to soften them up before the real message is delivered.
Add because you are loveable to your manner of expressing love. “I love you because you are loveable” is an important
concept for children to learn. It helps them understand that your love is attached to no specific condition. It simply is.
Be careful not to add any other words after because. “I love you because you are thoughtful” adds a condition
that communicates conditional love. The only acceptable phrase to use with because is because you are loveable.
Say “I love you” at unexpected times. Children often hear our expressions of love at familiar times. We typically
say “I love you” when we are going out the door on our way to work. We say it when we end a phone conversation.
“I love you” is often the last communication our children hear as we tuck them into bed at night. “I love
you” at those times is often expected and certainly anticipated. To heighten the impact of these three valuable words,
use them at unexpected times. Say them in the middle of a meal, as you are driving down the road in your car, or as you stand
at the kitchen sink doing dishes together.
Some children are auditory and need to hear the words “I love you.”
Others are tactile and need to be touched to feel loved. Still others are visual and need to see love on your face and in
your actions. Why not give your children all three variations when you communicate your love?
Our Children's Needs - by Robert Elias Najemy
A human being is
pretty much formed & programmed in his or her concepts about himself or herself & the surrounding world by the
age of 8.
Most of the work,
which is done today by psychologists & psychiatrists, is to solve the problems & fill the gaps left by the experiences
of those earlier years. Wouldn't it be better to pay more attention to how we bring up our children so that they can be stronger,
more able, happier, more in harmony with themselves & their environment?
The future of the world
depends on our children. The quality of our children & their ability to create a better world depends on us, but not in
the way most may think. Let us consider here how we can help our children & ourselves to find harmony, health & happiness.
SEEDS DON'T LEARN TO GROW
Seeds grow into beautiful plants & huge almost immortal trees with no education
or training whatsoever.
What they are to become
& how they're to become that, are already printed in their consciousness & chromosomes. The same is true for all the
animals, plants & insects upon the earth. Is man the only exception?
Are we so unintelligent
that we can't understand what we must become & how we must become that? Are we so far behind the plants & animals in this matter? Or have
we destroyed this contact with our inner consciousness, our inner voice that could guide us on our way?
Adults in their well meaning way, with an exaggerated concern for their children & an underestimation of the divine potential which lies within those small beings, inadvertently destroy
that small inner voice, as they try to mould their children into what they believe their child should become. This is also true of the educational system as a whole.
Thus the question,
concerning how we can help our children, becomes, more accurately, how can we help ourselves out of our mistaken concepts
& anxiety about the future & lack of confidence in ourselves, our children & mankind so as not to become obstacles to the child's natural development?
Our emphasis shouldn't be so much on how we can teach but on how we can learn & grow maturer
emotionally, mentally & spiritually. Then the "real parent", the divine within each child, will take over for us & for our children.
We can't help our children
find the voice within them if we haven't found our own. We can't help our children to be healthy if we haven't created health for ourselves.
We can't help them
have self-confidence unless we ourselves have it. Their self-respect depends on our self-respect, their inner peace on ours & their self-mastery on our self-mastery.
Learning thru example is
much more effective for children than learning thru words. When the person who gives advice isn't an example of those words,
then not only do those words have no power, but they create a feeling of resentment & rejection towards the hypocrisy which is so obvious.
All children are idealists. They expect there to be a consistency between thoughts, words & actions. When there isn't, they feel insecure, they don't know what to believe. Consistency gives a child a feeling of security & respect.
WHAT ARE THEIR NEEDS?
This list of children's
needs will by no means be complete. These are some of the obvious needs that come to mind at this moment.
When I asked a small group
of children to think about the basic needs of children, one child shocked me with the most simple answers.
She said, «The
first need of children is PARENTS». How simple, how obvious & yet today how fragile is that assurance that the child will have the
same two parents from its birth until adulthood.
«The second need of children», she said, «is to have a good relationship with your parents». This 11 year-old child was telling me
what took so many psychologists so many years to understand & verify.
In working with adults with various emotional problems, most difficulties
seem to originate from the lack of affirmation of love & acceptance during their childhood. When this base of love & acceptance is missing, then we have lot of work to do in our adult life in order to regain that self-love & self-acceptance.
When this base of love is there as a child, then we can proceed on to other needs & activities. When it isn't there, then whatever we'll do in our lives will have as a major motive, proving our ability
& our self-worth.
Children need to feel secure. Few feel secure when there are conflicts occurring around them. Few can relax inwardly when others around them are shouting, accusing, criticizing & hating each other. To a small child, tension between parents, or between parents & the child or other children, constitute a
deep chasm of insecurity.
When the conflict is between the parents, it's often worse for the child. The child hasn't yet learned to feel separate itself from
the parents. It feels identification with both parents.
Thus when they're in conflict, it feels that the conflict is taking place between two parts of its own being. It might even begin hating itself as a result.
Children can't feel secure if the parents don't feel secure.
If we're constantly worrying
& have anxiety about money, health & the future, then our children will automatically be programmed to feel insecure about these aspects of life.
This insecurity will remain with them & they'll waste large portions of time, energy & thought throughout their life, trying
in vain to find «security» by controlling these external circumstances. As adults, it's possible that this inner programming that we aren't secure may never be appeased.
Thus the most effective way to offer a security base to our children isn't to be found in providing them with a large inheritance but rather to establish an inner feeling of security within ourselves. If we believe in ourselves & in our ability to cope with all of life's situations, the child will feel the same.
As we feel more secure, we'll have less moments of conflict with others & our home will be in general more peaceful & more supportive for the child.
We all know that a
child needs love & want to be able to love our children unconditionally; but it isn't so easy.
We're human beings
with needs, feelings, expectations, attachments, fears & conditionings which prevent us from being able to accept our children independently of their behavior. Having children is an excellent opportunity in life to develop unconditional
love. We're more inclined to forgive, overlook & to continue loving when we feel that this is our child.
What do we mean by unconditional love?
We mean that our
feelings of love & acceptance for our children don't change or fluctuate depending on what they do or say, or what they decide to do with their lives. It isn't necessary to love & accept our children's behavior.
We must make a distinction
between our children's being, soul or consciousness & their behavior. We can reject a certain behavior & explain so to them, without rejecting their being or self. "I love you but I'm disturbed by this particular behavior."
Our children need to know that we accept & love them regardless of what they may do, but also that certain forms of behavior aren't acceptable to us. We should, however, investigate for ourselves why this behavior isn't acceptable.
Is it because it'll be
potentially harmful to the child, to someone else, or to ourselves?
Or is it simply
because we are programmed that it shouldn't be done?
Or does the behavior conflict with our expectations based on our personal needs & dreams for the child? Or are we afraid of what the others will think about our child & subsequently about us?
We must be very clear about why we're
rejecting a certain behavior. Our rejection can come out of a place of real love & concern for the child, if, in fact, we aren't simply protecting our own interests.
As long as a certain behavior
does no real harm to anyone, it's best to allow the child to pursue it. Something within them, some need is guiding them to explore that kind of activity. They have something to learn thru doing that.
This doesn't mean that there aren't moments where control or even natural or logical consequences may be necessary.
But we need to be sure that the reasons are valid & have to do with real issues of safety or morality & not because we're disappointed with the their grades or selection of hobbies, interests or friends.
In order to love our children unconditionally, we'll need to start loving ourselves unconditionally. We'll have to let go of all the prerequisites we have put on our own self-love.
We'll need to love ourselves even though we aren't perfect, even though we make mistakes, even when others don't love & accept us. The more we free our self-love from the various prerequisites, the more our love for our children & others will become unconditional.
Everyone likes a pat on the back, recognition, strokes, praise or affirmation of his or her ability, goodness & worthiness. Our children haven't yet formed images of themselves & need these positive inputs even more than adults.
Children aren't sure if
they're able or not. They're small in such a large world. They're learning & thus making many mistakes as they
try to learn how to do things correctly.
In our attempt to help
our children we often tend to point out their mistakes more frequently than their successes. The mistakes are what are more obvious & thus we feel the need to point them out. The successes are taken for granted.
We over-emphasize what
our children do wrong. This undermines their sense of ability & they start to doubt whether they can really succeed. Thus they become preoccupied, worrying about whether they'll be able to do it & whether they'll be criticized.
Thus little energy is
left for focusing on what they're actually doing so that they can do it correctly & succeed. Then, if our children's performance suffers, we become even more critical. This creates a vicious circle in which our children's
sense of ability, success & worthiness is completely undermined.
Later in life
we seek incessantly to prove that we're okay, a success, by attempting to gain money, fame & respect from others.
But it's a losing battle
because inside us we're programmed to believe that we aren't okay, not able. Although we may become very successful, we'll likely be unable to satiate our need to prove our ability over & over.
On the other hand, we may simply perpetuate
the belief that we are failures & create continual failure in life, by undermining our success in relationships & at work & perhaps our sense of self-worth thru alcohol, drugs, tranquilizers or other means.
To be continued.
If you're interested
in improving your communication with your children, you can receive a free email course with 16 messages concerning how we
can do so. Send in an email to the following address to get one message each week on More Effective Communication with Children
for 16 weeks. communicatingchildren@GetResponse.com
Trauma is defined as “an overwhelming psychological experience that causes changes in the biological stress response.” When children’s psychological & emotional needs are either not met in an appropriate &/or timely manner, these experiences are traumatic.
They become hard-wired
into the child’s brain & leave biological & physical symptoms of trauma. These earliest symptoms, which are very subtle & often invisible to the untrained eye, involve avoidant & anxious / ambivalent behaviors typical of insecurely bonded children. (also see left column)
Both varieties of behavior
symptoms also include typical physical markers of trauma such as:
between bonding breaks & trauma is very new. Some of the groundbreaking research in this area has been done by Sheila Wang in the Dept. of Psychiatry at
Yale Univ. School of Medicine.
Ms. Wang, a researcher
in the field of post-traumatic stress, found parallels between the cortisol levels in the bloodstream of children who experience chronic
separation from their mothers & adults who experience chronic stress from natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods & human-made disasters such as wars, murders & bombings.
This biologically based
data provides the critical tie linking trauma & bonding breaks, a phenomenon that I call Developmental
Janae B. Weinhold. Ph.D.
is inflicted unconsciously & without the malicious intent by adult caregivers who are unaware of the physical, psychological, mental & spiritual needs of children.
When children don't
get their needs for nurturing, protection & safety met in an appropriate &/or timely manner, particularly during the first 3 years of life, they experience trauma.
Because most adults
didn't get many of their own developmental needsmet as children & are uneducated about the normal needs of infants & young children, they lack insensitivity to children's needs.
It's this lack of
awareness & sensitivity that prevents adults from effectively meeting children's needs.
Trauma© from the first 3 years of life are also the central cause of intractable conflicts in close relationships.
The “compulsion repetition” aspect of trauma, also known as “traumatic
reenactment,” causes people to compulsively reenact the themes of their traumatic experiences in ways that form
consistent, predictable patterns of behavior within relationships.
Once people discover
the cause-&-effect correlation between these early events & the kinds of conflict they repeatedly experience, they
learn how to use their conflicts to clear the residue of Developmental Trauma© from their lives.
Rather than feeling victimized, people can learn how to change their patterns of "traumatic reenactment" in ways that shift them into a higher level of
Those with training in attachment can identify the symptoms of Developmental Trauma© in infants who lose psychological contact with their mothers.
a panicked look in the infant’s eyes
frantic searching for the mother’s face
repeated attempts to engage the mother in some
spitting up of vomit
hyperactive / dysregulated behavior
In older children,
it appears as difficulties with reciprocity, the give-&-take aspect of relationship at the
core of bonding.
Developmental traumas create a hyper-sensitivity to certain kinds of situational "triggers" such as:
that later cause recycling, intractable conflicts. These situational triggers mold the child’s reactions about the loss of connection to the mother into the avoidant & anxious / ambivalent forms of insecure bonding also know as “attachment disturbances.”
When sufficient behavioral
criteria are present, the “disturbance” becomes a diagnosable mental health problem known as “Reactive Attachment Disorder” (RAD).
RAD has two different
At a practical level,
the most common symptom of Developmental Trauma© in children is hyperactive, out of control behaviors designed to test the limits of the adult caregivers. This testing of limits is the primary way that children determine who is in charge in the environment - the adults or the children.
When adults don't
explain the rules for behavior & social interactions & the consequences for breaking these rules, children don't feel safe. They only feel safe with rules that protect them from harm & when there are consequences in place for those who violate the rules.
In fact, children’s
“misbehavior” is really a way of forcing adults to set limits. When they don't, children learn a myriad of ways to take charge of feeling safe in their environment thru:
designed to intimidate & control the weak or ambivalent adults around them.
Loving Yourself, Loving Your Children - By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Think about this for a moment: Is it really possible to love your children without loving yourself, or to love yourself without loving your children?
The answer is no.
you're ignoring yourself to take care of your children, this isn't loving to your children or to yourself. While being there for your children is very important, it's equally important to role model for them what it's like to take responsibility for your own well-being.
you take care of your children but don't take care of your own feelings & needs, they'll not learn how to take responsibility for their feelings & needs. They'll grow up either expecting someone else to take care of them, or they'll care-take others while ignoring themselves – just as you do.
On the other hand, if you're narcissistic &
just attend to what you want, ignoring your children’s feelings & needs, you aren't being loving to yourself or your children. You can't possibly end up feeling worthy & valuable within yourself when you're self-centered & ignore your children’s needs.
If you're approving of your children but judgmental toward yourself, your children will likely learn to be judgmental toward themselves. You're their role model & they'll likely learn to do what you do. If you treat them well but treat
yourself badly, there's a good possibility that they'll learn to treat themselves badly, no matter how loving you're with them.
If you want to be a loving parent with your children, it's essential that you also learn to be a loving parent with yourself. This doesn't mean that you ignore your children’s needs in favor or your own, or vise versa.
it does mean is that you learn to create a balance between taking care of them & taking care of yourself. While this isn't always possible, especially with infants, it's certainly a goal to aim for.
This may mean that they don’t always get what they want just when
they want it – once they're old enough to play by themselves. It means that sometimes you say to them things like:
“I need some time alone for myself now & you need to play by yourself for awhile.”
& your spouse) need some time alone together right now so you need to find something to do.”
“I’m on the phone & this is important to me. What you want will have to wait.”
“Daddy & I (or Mommy & I) are talking about something that's important to us. Please don’t interrupt us right now.”
“I need to go to sleep early tonight because I have to get up early for an important appointment, so please don't make noise & wake me up.”
As a parent, you
need to learn to respect your own feelings & needs as well as theirs. By honoring your feelings & needs as well as theirs, they'll learn to take responsibility for their own feelings & needs while also respecting & honoring others’ feelings & needs.
Many people have been taught that taking care of their own feelings & needs is selfish – that they should just be there for others. This is a false definition of selfish. We're being selfish when we expect others to give themselves up for us. We're being self-responsible when lovingly take care of ourselves while also caring about others.
You serve your children well when you learn to stay tuned into to
their feelings & needs as well as your own. You have a good chance of raising caring & personally responsible children when you learn to care about yourself while taking loving care of them.
When my kids
were about the same age as this little one we were always hugging, cuddling and touching. Nothing felt better to them than
a hug from mom. It always made everything bad go away. Little did they know that I had felt the same way.
As my kids grew up...
now they're adults, at times they would live far away from me. When I'd listen to their problems over the phone or as we typed
online in a message box, I'd end my conversation with them by saying, "Give yourself a hug for
me... it sounds like you need it!"
I know it brought
back the memory of how good it felt and they also know now that if I were with them, I'd hold them and hug them just
like they were small children. We all need that sense of "nurture" - that sense of touch - that sense that someone loves us...
Lack of Hugs Can Change Children's Neurobiology
By Michael Smith, MedPage Today Staff Writer
November 22, 2005
MADISON, Wis., Nov. 22 - Children
raised in the uncaring environment of some eastern European orphanages ended up with a long-lasting deficit in 2 hormones involved in forming social
bonds, reported researchers here.
In other words, nurture - or the lack of it - can trump nature when it comes to the ability to form social bonds, according
to Seth Pollack, Ph.D. & asst. professor of psychology & of psychiatry & pediatrics at the Univ. of Wisconsin.
The deficits in oxytocin &
arginine vasopressin persisted even after the children were removed from the orphanages & placed with loving & stable
families in Wisconsin, Dr. Pollack & colleagues reported in the Nov. 21 online edition of the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences.
The 2 hormones are known to
play a role in the ability to form social bonds, Dr. Pollack said & the deficit he & colleagues found is the first
demonstration that early neglect can have a direct effect on neurobiology in ways that may later influence emotional behavior.
Normally, Dr. Pollack said,
infants begin to bond with caregivers almost immediately after birth & it's difficult to separate the influences of social
experience & biology on such complex behavior.
But the "aberrant social environments"
of some orphanages in Russia & Romania - where "a prominent lack of emotional & physical contact from caregivers"
was standard - provide a unique natural experiment, he & colleagues wrote.
They compared 18 4-year-olds
who had spent an average of 16.6 months in the orphanages & who were then adopted by families in Wisconsin to 21 children
who were living with their biological parents.
At the time of the study,
the former orphans had been living with their new families for an average of 34.6 months.
A baseline analysis showed
that the former orphans began with markedly lower levels of vasopressin than the control children. The difference was statistically
significant at p<0.01.
That suggests, Dr. Pollack
& colleagues said, that social deprivation may inhibit the development of the vasopressin system. Since the hormone appears to be critical for recognizing familiar people, that may in turn affect the formation of social bonds.
There was no difference in
the baseline levels of oxytocin, which is thought to confer a sense of security & protection.
In the experiment itself,
the children were asked to sit on the lap of a woman & play a 30-minute computer game that directed them to engage in
various forms of physical contact, such as whispering, tickling, or patting each other on the head.
Each child played the game twice,
once with his or her mother & once with a stranger.
After each game, the researchers
collected a urine sample to measure oxytocin & vasopressin levels.
The study found:
- The control children tended to have higher levels of oxytocin
than the former orphans after they interacted with their mothers. The difference approached statistical significance at p=0.056.
- There were no differences between the groups after the interaction
with the unfamiliar adult.
- There were no differences in vasopressin between groups after
Dr. Pollack said the results
may help explain why many neglected children have difficulties forming secure relationships, but added it shouldn't be taken as evidence that the damage is permanent.
"It's extremely important
that people don't think this work implies that these children are somehow permanently delayed," he said. "All we're saying is that in the case of
some social problems, here's a window into understanding the biological basis of why they happen."
The researchers also noted
that the findings don't apply to all adopted children; those in this study were subjected to an unusually deprived environment.