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Identify children’s needs in relation to emotional well-being

Theoretical perspectives of emotional well-being

Emotional well-being covers many areas, including relationships and how we manage under stress or in a hard situation.

Most of psychologist trusts, children who have health relationships with adults, especially in early years, grows with emotional well-being. Good relationships with adults develop children’s self-esteem and resilience.

It was created some attachment theories as Behaviourist model of attachment, Harlow’s monkey, and John Bowlby.

In Behaviourist model of attachment, in theory, children should have strong relationship with the person who feeds them because food is considerate a positive reinforcement. “This theory in relation to attachment is no longer thought to be accurate as a result of an experiment known as ‘Harlow’s monkey’.

In Harlow’s monkey studies, he wants to proof that attachment is not ‘cupboard love’. He used baby monkey (because who has similar needs for attachment as human babies). Harlow made two synthetic men. One made from wire mesh, that gave food to the monkey. One made from soft cloth didn’t do anything, it was just comfy. He realized; the baby monkey spent more time with soft cloth man than with wire mesh. Baby monkey just went to wire mesh when he needed food.

John Bowlby’s attachment theory says that children birth ‘pre-programmed’ to create attachments with others, because they need the others to survive. According to Bowlby, attachment behaviours are instinctive. Bowlby also believes that the distress of strangers characterises a survival device.

In Bowlby’s theory, a child has an innate need to attach to one main attachment person specially in the first two years of life. If not, child is at risk of psychological damage. If the child is separated from main attachment person, he/she could show what it is called, separation anxiety.

Bowlby believes that short-term separation from an attachment main person leads to distress.

The phases of distress are:

  • Protest: The children cry, scream and protest irritably when this person leaves. They will try to grip on to the person to stop her/him leaving.

  • Despair: The children’s protesting phase is almost in the end, and they seem to be calmer however they still upset. The children refuse others’ efforts for cosiness and frequently seems quiet and indifferent to everything.

  • Detachment: The children seem fine with separation; they start to enjoy some activities. It means, they are coping with the separation and trying don’t remember the relationship. They could reject the caregiver on their express strong signs of anger because they could learn don’t trust people who they care for.

Other important factor is the quality of attachment. Bowlby also investigate if quality of attachment matters to children well-being. Bowlby developed an experiment named ‘The strange situation experiment’. The experiment studies how strong is the attachment between mother and baby. According to Bowlby, the procedure was:

  1. "Parent and baby enter room"

  2. "Parent remains inactive; baby is free to explore room"

  3. "Stranger joins parent and infant"

  4. "Parent leaves room"

  5. "Parent returns, settles baby and stranger leaves"

  6. "Baby is alone in the room"

  7. "Stranger returns and interacts with baby"

  8. "Parent returns again and stranger leaves”

According to the studies, there are 3 kinds of reactions:

Type A – anxious-avoidant, the babies dislike being alone, however they can be comforted by strangers.

Type B – securely attached, the babies play while parents are in the room, however, shows evident distress when parents leave the room, and they can be partly comforted by strangers.

Type C – anxious-resistant, the babies are very distressed when parents leave and energetically resists stranger’s efforts to comfort.

It also according to the studies, the quality of attachment depends on the parenting that the baby is receiving. Babies who the parent can predict their needs and frustrations, the babies usually showed type B behaviour.

Bowlby had colleges called, James and Joyce Robertson, they studied “in the early 1960’s they began a study which showed how, with good substitute foster care, children could cope with separations when their parents went into hospital. Their work provides the basis for the key person system that is used today in early years settings”.

The process of bonding, attachment, and development secure relationships

Bonding is the period where an emotional bond between parent and baby is existing. The bonding process starts before birth, when the parent becomes conscious of the growing child and a relationship start. It is instinctive process; it is to guarantee the live and safety of defenceless new-born child.

Some factors can distress the mother’s capability to bond with the baby:

Post-natal depression: According NHS website “The cause of postnatal depression isn't completely clear. Some of the factors it has been associated with include: a history of mental health problems, particularly depression, earlier in life; a history of mental health problems during pregnancy; having no close family or friends to support you; a poor relationship with your partner; recent stressful life events, such as a bereavement; experiencing the "baby blues". Even if you don't have any of these symptoms, having a baby is a life-changing event that can sometimes trigger depression. It often takes time to adapt to becoming a new parent. Looking after a small baby can be stressful and exhausting”

A difficult birth, particularly if she is in pain or had been traumatised by the birth.

Premature birth “may lead to the parents not being able to touch or feel their baby as much would otherwise be expected.”

Babies with additional needs can cause parents miss their self-confidence and become more concerned, and it can distress the baby.

Attachment is the process where babies improve gradually attachments with their parents and main family members. Primary and secondary attachments are usually permanent and very significant to the child. Secondary attachments comprise relationships with their key person (in the setting) and friendships with other children.

It takes time for children developing safe relationships with adults who are not their parent or primary attachment.

The process of attachment usually takes between six weeks to three months to babies being attracted to human faces and voices. Between three months to six/seven months to babies are learning to differentiate between faces and they clearly can show happiness when they see familiar faces. They can happily be handled by strangers. Between seven/eight months, babies can show distress when they miss key people. From eight months, after making certain attachments, they can have multiple attachments. It is important part of the socialization process.

Children can show signs that they have developed a secure relationship, these signs are at the start of session where they seem wanting to be with that adult and they start interacting with.

Impact of secure relationships

“The impact of secure relationships on children is very important. Having strong bond with their parents, key cares and, in early years settings, their key person seems to be important for many aspects of children emotional well-being”

Children who have solid relationships have less possibility to develop depression and less affected by stress. They cope better with stressful situations.

Children who have solid relationship seems make friends easier and shows empathy for others. They can manage better their emotions and behaviour. They also seem to have a self-confidence.


TASSONI, Penny. Early Years Educator – for the worked-based learner. Cache Level 3

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