Parent-child relationship and its meaning

A strong, secure parent-child relationship is of great importance for psychological resistance to stress in later life.

Binding is a specific emotional bond that connects people over time and space. You can be tied to more than one person, but not to many. A good and safe parent-child relationship in early childhood is a basis for greater psychological resistance to various stresses and strains. However, how one later conducts one’s own interpersonal relationships is strongly based on one’s own early experiences.

Strengthening parent-child relationships through emotional attention and adequate stimulation after birth

In the 1980s, brain researchers discovered that babies were born with a high set of mirror neurons. The mirror neurons were discovered by Giacomo Rizzolatti during experiments with chimpanzees. The mirror neurons even fire only when observing an action without performing it themselves.

The basic neurobiological equipment of nerve cells is almost complete at the time of birth. In the second and third thirds of pregnancy, the build-up of the corresponding networks already begins. In the last months of pregnancy, an explosive increase of synapses can be seen during examinations. Through emotional attention and adequate stimulation after birth, these neurons connect and are lost without them (use it or loose it).

Due to the mirror neurons, the infant is able to play back the signals supplied by the binding person. This is the secret of the early mother (father) child communication and the basis for the development of empathy. The hormone release of the “cuddly hormone” oxytocin supports the binding structure and the stress hormones adrenalin, cortisol and noradrenalin endanger the binding readiness. In this context, it is known that this emotional attention is by no means a generally inherited mother instinct, but is based on one’s own experiences in infancy, which are stored in nerve cell networks. Of course, this also means that one’s own good or bad bonding experiences are passed on over generations!

Babies are born with an innate need for attachment, which has to be satisfied by their caregivers. Emotional attention is vital for the survival of children and just as important as food, sleep and air. The attachment to the mothering person already develops during pregnancy. Already in the womb the child feels whether it is welcome!

A binding person offers protection and security and cannot be replaced at will. It is “the safe emotional haven” for the child. Through fear and separation the bonding system is activated and through physical closeness and attention of the bonding person it is reassured. The need for attachment alternates with the need for exploration. Only when the need for attachment is calmed can the toddler explore and learn the environment. Binding children are generally considered to be more interested. There is also a hierarchy among the bindings, one speaks of the primary and secondary bindings.

Blood is no thicker than water

The caregiver with the greatest sensitivity in interaction becomes the main attachment person. In the event of severe pain, anxiety, or grief, the infant will insist urgently on the primary caregiver. However, emotional attachment does not come about through genetic relationship and the proverb “blood is thicker than water” is incorrect in this respect. Adoptive or foster parents can also be strong bond persons for the child. What is decisive is sensitivity and that the child’s signals are perceived, correctly interpreted and appropriately reacted to, and that the attachment person is emotionally available and reliable.

What bond qualities are there?

Binding research by John Bowlby, the founder of the binding theory (researched in the 1960s), speaks of safe binding (approx. 55 – 60%) and unsafe binding, which in turn is divided into insecure-avoidable (approx. 15 – 20%) and insecure-ambivalent (approx. 5 – 10%). A disorganized bond (approx. 5 – 10%) is already a beginning psychopathology, and a bond disorder (approx. 3 – 5%) is already a manifest early psychopathology.

The “Foreign Situation Test” was developed in 1970 by Mary Ainsworth, an employee of John Bowlby. It is a developmental psychological experiment that aims to show the relationship between child and attachment person. This test is still valid today to measure the quality of the bond. The foreign situation test is carried out with children aged between 12 and 24 months in a foreign room with interesting toys.

The person who binds is first alone with the child, then there is a stranger who makes contact with the child. The mother or father leaves the room in a precisely predetermined period of time and the child remains with the stranger. Video surveillance is used to observe how the child reacts to the departure of the attachment person and to the attempts to console the stranger. Then the child even stays alone in the strange room for a short time. The reaction to this and the reunion with the attachment person say a lot about the quality of the attachment.

Parent-child relationship offers protection against psychological stress later on

A safe early parent-child relationship provides protection against later psychological stress, and an insecure bond means a risk for the development of mental abnormalities.

The goal of all parents should therefore be for their children to develop a secure bond with them. However, it has also been established that the quality of a parent-child relationship and a secure bond is very strongly inherited, up to 70%. Those who are securely bound themselves can pass on this pattern of a strong parent-child relationship to their children much more easily.

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Christina Cherry
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