Tweddle World Mental Health Day

Importance of Attachment leads Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 11-17 June

Importance of Attachment leads Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 11-17 June

By Kerrie Gottliebsen

Next week Tweddle will join health professionals, academics and organisations from around the world to celebrate Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 (#IMHAW18), a global initiative from 11th – 17th of June that highlights the distinct needs of babies and toddlers.

This year’s focus is ‘The Importance of Attachment’. Strengthening secure attachment has driven Tweddle’s parent, baby and toddler programs and services for generations.

As a state wide early intervention and prevention health service dedicated to the strengthening of attachment in the first 1000 days (conception to age 2), we see this year’s focus as fundamental to the social and emotional health of children for life.

Early attachments with caregivers serve to keep a baby safe and secure. Attachments motivate children to stay close to their parents, which allows the parent to provide protection, security, and care.

Attachments create a safe haven, or the need to return to attachment figures for care and comfort during times of distress, fear, or uncertainty.

Attachment figures offer a secure base for exploration which is vital during childhood. This secure base allows children to explore the world while knowing they can still return to the safety of the attachment figure.

Insecure attachment arises when parents are unavailable, unresponsive or unpredictable in responding to a child’s needs or are unable to provide their baby with emotional regulation. Insecure attachments are often associated with an increased likelihood of developing social and emotional problems later in life.

There are many parenting challenges that can interfere with forming secure attachment. Tweddle’s admission process assesses over 30 different parenting risk factors which, which due to their cumulative nature, can impact the attachment relationship. Past trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) can get in the way of parents developing secure attachment with their babies.

Conclusive evidence now links Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACES impacting not only attachment but brain structure, the immune system, developing hormonal systems and even DNA.

Early Parenting services like Tweddle’s support the reduction of parental stress in the critical first 1000 days. This is a critical window of a baby’s development in shaping attachment, brain formation, communication, language development, mental health and relationships.

To learn effectively, children need to feel calm, safe and protected. When this attachment process is interrupted, the child’s brain places an emphasis on developing neural pathways that are associated with survival, before those that are essential to future learning and growth (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).

Tweddle’s programs are underpinned by attachment which can essentially be broken down into two overarching styles: secure attachment and insecure attachment. When positive and secure attachments are not created, and the child is exposed to significant and persistent adverse experiences, this is likely to result in poor health and development outcomes throughout the life course.

So how do you strengthen attachment? Zero to Three (a U.S. based peak advocacy organisation focussed on ensuring that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life) remind us that it’s the simple things that build a child’s sense of worth and security, as demonstrated in their video the magic of everyday moment. Research shows that the key is responsive care: the process of watching and tuning into your child’s cues and thinking about what his behaviour might mean and responding in a sensitive way.

The quality of attachment can predict later development. A baby who develops secure attachment with a primary caregiver during the early years of life is more likely to have positive relationships with peers, perform better in school, and respond with resilience in the face of adversity as children and adults.

Most of us know that there is a critical window of development that takes place in the first 1000 days where 80% of a child’s brain is developed. Relationships are crucial to babies during this period and are the building blocks for good mental health in childhood and throughout life.

Educating and supporting parents to understand, manage and seek support for severe stress and mental health issues caused by past trauma, exhaustion, family violence, financial pressures, acute early parenting challenges and other issues paves the way for secure attachment relationships.

The World Association of Infant Mental Health Position Paper on the Rights of Infants includes the ‘Basic Principles of Infant Rights’ (Birth to three years of age) and highlights; “An all-too-common view is that the baby is “too small to really understand or to remember” and thus the baby’s perspective is often not appreciated by health professionals and even by parents. Infants have unique nonverbal ways of expressing themselves and their capacities to feel, to form close and secure relationships, and to explore the environment and learn – all of which require appropriate nurturing since they are fundamental for building a lifetime of mental and physical health”.

Tweddle’s clinical staff support families through a lens of secure attachment. Teaching families how to identify and respond sensitively and consistently to their baby or toddler’s cues provides the foundations for future relationships.

During Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, Tweddle asks government, industry, parents and carers to consider the distinct needs of babies and toddlers and to invest in the services that support parents and carers in the very early years.

We welcome you to join the Infant Mental Health Awareness Week conversation between Monday 11th and Sunday the 17th of June using #IMHAW18 on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Tweddle welcomes questions on Facebook from parents relating to attachment and infant mental health throughout the Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 11-17 June 2018.

 

 

 

 


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