A clinical psychologist explains the five-decade history of attachment theory and its relation to personal development.
Shiller (Rewards for Kids!, 2003) is a licensed psychologist and an assistant clinical professor at the Yale University Child Study Center who specializes in parent-child attachment. “Attachment,” in this context, describes the quality of trust and security that a child feels for a parent, particularly in stressful situations. In this book, which is based on scholarly research but aimed at a general readership, Shiller first surveys the background, development, and principles of attachment theory. The idea that babies need to be held, looked at, and given affection sounds like common sense today, but not long ago, professional advice recommended the opposite; for example, John Watson, in 1928’s Psychological Care of the Infant Child, wrote, “If your heart is too tender…make yourself a peephole so you can see it without being seen…learn not to talk in endearing and coddling terms.” Beginning in the 1950s, researchers such as John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth did work that provided a scientific foundation for a new understanding of child development, which said that kids need a secure base from which to explore the world and handle stress. Shiller then examines how affectional bonds begin in infancy and lay the groundwork for future growth; these bonds also affect adult relationships, including how one cares for elderly parents. The book goes on to discuss the specific role of fathers, as well as practical issues regarding day care and post-divorce custody arrangements. For general students of psychology and of attachment theory in particular, this book will be a useful tool, as it offers a clearly written account that summarizes research of the last half century and more. The author’s assessments are evenhanded, and even when the writing is a little stuffy, she always conveys the importance of the content. She also provides some real-life vignettes that help make the concepts more vivid and understandable; for example, she helps readers understand crucial differences in attachment security by carefully explaining the classic “Strange Situation Procedure”—a simple but revealing test of how caregivers interact with children.
A useful, thorough survey of a cornerstone theory, if somewhat dry at times.