The attachment relationship between infant and caregiver is crucial to healthy development. A secure, warm, responsive and predictable relationship with at least one caregiver influences the formation of neural structures in the brain that lead to positive infant well-being. Secure attachment also positively affects the development of the hypothalamic pituitary axis, which regulates stress.
Even in situations of stress, secure attachment relationships can help buffer the developing brain from significant harm. A sound social and emotional base is the launching pad for all other development – the physical, motor and cognitive development that prepares children for school and for eventual success in life.
If those early relationships are highly stressful – through absence, poverty, unpredictability or violence – neuronal pathways more attuned to reactivity are forged. This puts children at greater risk for challenges in life, including school failure and social difficulties.
When infants are in poor-quality child care or parental care is compromised due to issues such as serious depression, the infant’s responsiveness can be compromised. This can affect brain development and subsequent mental well-being. Parents and caregivers need to be attuned to their own mental health and seek help when needed.