CYC-Online 42 JULY 2002
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in a nutshell

Attachment and development

Henry Maier

Recently a new worker asked me “What shall I do in order to become an effective and eventually a seasoned careworker?" I told her I could help her with that learning even without my usual two-hour lecture. I wanted to spare her from being overshowered with an array of practical suggestions. I brought up that she probably has a person in her adult life who always gives support and direction to her whenever things seem uncertain and shaky. Also I suggested that in times of transition when she had to face new life experiences or difficult exams, or had to be very much on her own, the knowledge of being closely connected to this person helps her to maintain her balance and to hurdle most such complicated moments.

Yes, attachment frees!
I continued by anticipating that she could become an attachment-building worker. Attachment with the residents emerges out of experiences similar to her own. She would be able to establish powerful connections by the very fact that the residents realize that she is always “there for them". The prospective worker inserted, “I know what you mean. I always value it when my special person gives me a hand to get out of the car or has a warm embrace when we meet." It seems that a personal touch when we meet or part from each other is a vital building experience. I quickly added, “Yes, parting from each other can mold attachment. For instance, you will have days off and will be away from each other. That you thought of them while separated, or even had sent a personal post card will solidify your powerful connections."

Yes, although being apart from each other, each one can gain from the background presence of the other.

During the course of daily life there are many potential moments for vital interactions in which the presence of the other makes a difference – for instance, offering the ketchup or another glass of milk before the youngster reaches or shouts for it. (You will notice that when a child fears nobody will help him at mealtime, much milk will be spilled or unnecessary shouting will occur.) A reassuring presence, an arm over the child's shoulder, or sharing a warm “high 5" will have its impact. “You will be surprised that much of your work will consist of sitting with the children, possibly humming or singing favorite songs, or merely sitting together swinging your legs in joint rhythms." The potential worker then quickly added, “I think I understand.. It always is meaningful when my friend is in step with me and walks me to the outer gate."

"There's another wrinkle to your attachment development with the youngsters. You will have to DO things with them, be engaged in joint projects and a variety of experiences. You will join in games with them, active and at times boring ones. You may invent a play you want to put on together with them, or have a cookout or some other exciting entertainment. Togetherness can be experienced also by the children discovering from your behavior how to ask successfully for seconds from the cooks, or how to retrieve a baseball from a neighbor's garden."

I quickly added, “Your work with the residents means living with them not as a teacher as much as an experienced partner. For instance, in the morning as the youngsters straighten out their beds your helping hand will make a difference, not by teaching them how adept you are and showing that it makes the task more manageable, but primarily by being a partner in this humdrum task." I then asked the prospective worker what happens when she's suddenly hungry during the day? She quickly responded, “It's reassuring to me when my friend butters my toast or spreads the peanut butter on my slice of bread, providing a quick fix." I added laughing, “You've got the idea” 'The helping hand strikes again'".

Attachment experience cements personal relationships and reaffirms confidence in the world around us. It is evident that having a person attached to one creates the building blocks for strong future relationships.

I trust all careworkers will be joyful attachment workers.

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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