Yes, You Can Spoil a Child . . . After the Age of Two Years
Part 1

by LuAnn Pierce, MSW, CMSW

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While attachment is the first, and possibly the most important ingredient in child rearing, knowing when and how much to loosen the emotional hold on a child is equally as important to their growth and development. We never truly let go of our bond to our children, but there are a number of stages in the development of a child, teen and adult that are designed to promote less dependence and more autonomy, interdependence, if you will.

One of the first steps in that direction happens during early childhood when a baby starts to crawl and then becomes a toddler. At that stage the child becomes less physically dependent as he or she begins to move around independently. Initially the child may move away and look back frequently to make sure their parent or caregiver is still available. Eventually the child learns that, even when he or she can no longer visibly see their parent or caregiver, they are still there. This is a cognitive skill that occurs at about 18-24 months according to Jean Piaget. Two year olds are believed to be willing to place more physical distance between themselves and their caregivers than one year olds. The proximity of the caregiver decreases proportionately with an increase in age.

Children who are securely attached (experience mild distress when the caregiver leaves, seeking nearness to an attachment figure and being readily soothed by the figure) to their primary caregivers are believed to be more likely to use their caregivers as a home base from which they can explore the world. These children are more likely to venture away from their caregiver and experiment with the skills that will lead to executive independence (the ability to execute actions that meet one's own physical needs). Children who feel loved and secure do not appear to remain dependent, but to develop more independence because of the security of knowing that their caregiver is available as needed . . . they have a secure base, or foundation from which to exercise their autonomy and to which they can return as needed.

Children who are insecurely attached to their primary caregivers usually display avoidant attachment (apparent indifference to the attachment figures' leaving or reunion) or resistant attachment (severe distress to the attachment figures' leaving and ambivalence at their reunion). Children with insecure/resistant attachments are believed to be less likely to leave the comfort of their home base to explore on their own, thus become clingy and overly dependent. Children with insecure/avoidant attachments are believed to be overly independent, meaning they are not particularly fond of nurturing and cuddling, for whatever reason, thus are more likely to spend time alone, and may become overly independent.

What does all of this have to do with spoiling a child?

Continued in Part 2

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LuAnn Pierce is a licensed social worker and therapist, as well as an author and publisher. She has worked with hundreds of youths and families in the last 15 years. Ms. Pierce writes columns for several other publications and is the publisher/editor-in-chief of Person to Person.

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