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Parent-child Relationships

During the first year of life, infants develop a deep emotional connection to those adults who are involved regularly in their care. Attachment is the term used to describe this special relationship between infants and their caregivers. The history of infants' interactions with their caregivers, and the infants' emerging affective and cognitive capacities, provides the context within which patterns of emotional and behavioral responses become organized and the attachment relationship develops. For most infants, their primary attachment is to their mother. But young infants also form attachments with their fathers and with other consistently available and responsive caregivers.

Attachment theorists believe that infants are biologically predisposed to develop attachments. Infants rely on the attachment figure as a protector in the face of danger and as a secure base for exploration. Except in extreme cases where no stable interactive person is present (e.g., institutional care), all infants, even those who are diagnosed with developmental disorders or who have a history of abuse or neglect, will form an attachment relationship with their primary caregivers. How attachment relationships unfold, what factors influence qualitative differences in the patterning of these relationships, and how early attachments influence children's evolving sense of self, as well as their functioning in school, with peers and partners, and as parents, are questions that attachment researchers have been exploring for decades. More recently, contextual factors influencing attachment, such as the cultural context of caregiving, have been explored. Considered together, what has emerged is a rich and complex portrait of the infant's early attachment experiences, of the developmental significance of attachments, and of the continuities and discontinuities of attachments across time and relational contexts.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsAttachment - Couple Relationships, Parent-child Relationships