In a study that appeared in the journal Child Development, researchers at the University of Maryland evaluated 84 infants from birth to age two. During the first evaluation, infants were assessed on their irritability levels at one month of age. Irritability levels were tested by exposing the infant to various types of stimuli like dressing and a ringing bell. Of the infants tested, around one-third scored as highly irritable. The remaining two-thirds were rated as moderately irritable.
Infants were observed again at 12 months. Only this time, each infant’s attachment his or her mother was included in the assessment. Infants that were securely attached to their mothers turned towards them when distressed. Infants that were not securely attached did not turn towards their mothers when in distress.
The infants which were now toddlers were assessed, yet again, at 18 and 24 months. The researchers were now looking their reactions to unfamiliar people and toys. Toddlers in the moderately irritable group were not affected in their exploration or social skills by the attachments they had to their mothers. In the group of highly irritable toddlers, however, there was a clear distinction between the children that were securely attached to their mothers and those that were not.
Toddlers that were highly irritable as infants were more sociable and explorative when they had healthy attachments to their mothers as infants and toddlers than those that did not have attachments to their mothers. Based on these findings, measures to promote attachment between mother and child are extremely important, especially when the infant is highly irritable.
I agree with the need for attachment wholeheartedly. However, I also realize the stress that a highly irritable infant can bring. I just hope that, along with the measures taken to promote attachment, measures are also taken to provide support and education in how to cope with an irritable infant so that the parent can continue to desire the attachment.
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