Yes, You Can Spoil a Child . . . After the Age of Two Years
by LuAnn Pierce, MSW, CMSW
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
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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