In 1951 British psychologist John Bowlby proposed something radical concerning human development. Bowlby proposed that love matters. And not just in a philosophical or a poetic sense. Love, he theorized, is our means for survival and foundational to our health and well-being.
The most popular child development theory of that day was called behaviorism, and it put forth a very different view. Behaviorism taught that love and affection caused a child to be needy and dependent. In this way of thinking, love displayed to children was a dangerous indulgence, and proper training mattered most. So Bowlby’s report, commissioned by the World Health Organization as a study of the many European children left orphaned after World War II, was groundbreaking. Viewing love as an essential feature of healthy human development was a radical shift and one with profound implications for parenting. Bowlby termed this love – the emotional bond that exists between children and parents – attachment.
Bowlby’s theory of attachment argued that all humans are born with two complimentary instincts that shape development: the instinct to draw near to trusted caregivers for safety and comfort under distress and the instinct to go out and explore and master the world around them when the coast is clear. These two instincts maintain a balance between safety and adventure, preservation and growth. He called them the attachment and exploration systems. And these instincts in the child are paired with a parent’s natural instincts to monitor and intervene on behalf of their child, as the situation demands. These instincts bind us to one another for our survival and thriving. They keep us alive when we’re little and vulnerable and prepare us to be contributing members of community as we grow and mature.
From “The 6 Needs of Every Child: Empowering Parents and Kids Through the Science of Connection” by Amy and Jeffrey Olrick