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The first 12 months determines much of the rest of our lives?


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After all the research I have done on the brain these past 2.5 years, I find all of this stuff fascinating. It's definitely true that our brains are partially dependent on environment as they build. Little nudges direct the brain paths to go in a certain direction, and the more it's repeated the more deeply set those paths become. There is a lot of brain building that goes on in the first year.


That doesn't mean you can't nudge those paths into a different direction later on at some point, it just becomes harder.


Studies in brain genetics also show that certain brain characteristics can be passed on to children. In the end, it's a mixture of genetics and environment, same as always. I can definitely see how extreme environments in the first year (I'm not talking about the typical sometimes-anxious mother -- aren't we all?) can nudge those brain paths in a certain direction, however, laying the platform for undesirable behaviors or emotions later on.

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I agree, and clearly that's not what I was referring to. From what the OP says of the book, it makes it sound as if an anxious or distracted mother is going to result in a child that has all kinds of issues. That, I don't agree with.


I don't think I'm doing a very good job of explaining things, lol. I will have to see if I can find time later to copy out some passages from the book.


It does seem that a chaotic and anxious mother can have a negative impact on her child. It also seems that the first 12 months can have a big impact on the rest of one's life. Not *controlling* the entire life or that no other factors matter at all, but that there is a bigger impact than we may have previously thought.


One of the interesting things was how what is now called "attachment parenting" was called "overprotective" in the 40s and 50s and that was looked down on. Also, I'm reading now about experiments they did in Germany and there was a big difference in children raised in north vs. south Germany because of the expectations on families and parents. The researchers found that even though the parents in north Germany tended to be more cold and unresponsive with their children and that did cause attachment issues, it did not result in the degree of attachment issues they found in American studies. The parents in Germany who weren't as strongly attached were still involved in their children's lives, schoolwork, extracurricular activities, whereas in America if parents weren't attached it tended to permeate through the child's life.


Anyway, once again I'm distracted as I'm writing so I'm not sure if this is making sense, but it's interesting stuff. If anyone else wants to read the book and have a discussion I'd be up for it. :)

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A couple additional points.


One, I don't think we need a book to tell us that *extreme* neglect, abuse, or aberrant behavior is going to mess up a kid at least somewhat. So I assumed that the book mentioned by the OP goes beyond that obvious observation into the various parenting quirks / personality traits / stress reactions we all have at some time or other. No, I don't believe those parenting differences make or break a life. If they did, how do we explain the many kids born to (or adopted early by) really good mothers, who nevertheless grow up to have all kinds of issues?


Two, let's not minimize how much difference can be made by the right kind of intervention later. Once a child is cognizant of his own thoughts and personality, she can become aware of how to choose a different reaction, for example. I used to be extremely insecure and down on myself, until a few things happened in my life (friend advice, book advice, and having the guts to see if it was true) that helped me to see things more objectively. It doesn't matter whether those insecurities came from my parents, who were humble to a fault, or from hearing my mom scream when exasperated, or because I didn't get the right vitamins or slept in a crib. What matters is that a sane human can learn to choose her reaction.

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Here's a few passages from the book:


"Coming at a time when women were asserting their rights to a career and to equality in the workplace and when many families found they needed 2 incomes to get by, the new attachment research, inspired by Ainsworth's revolutionary work, engendered anxiety and hostility once again...if a child is not being properly nurtured, blame could just as logically be placed on our social organization, which fixes too many burdens on a mother, on family disruptions, on paternal absence, on poverty, or on the human condition itself...But attachment theory, as it was evolving, could be quite logically taken to imply that mothers were the problem. It was studying the infant-mother relationship and showing, in study after study, the miseries that befell the child when that relationship was disturbed." -pg 190


"Given the distortions of thought, feeling, and relationship style inherent in anxious attachment, there is understandably a great deal of concern about the tenacity of attachment patterns. That they often seem to persist through childhood and into adulthood is hardly surprising, if for no other reason than the fact that the environment most children start out with doesn't change. Early anxious attachment can be assumed to arise from several sources: trying circumstances, such as an overtaxed, undersupported mother not having the time or peace of mind to be sensitively and consistently available to each of her children; ignorance, which might cause otherwise caring parents to let a baby cry for prolonged periods, to leave him repeatedly or for too long a time before he is able to handle it, or to become prematurely concerned with training to independence; unhappy events in the child's life (deaths, separations, sibling rivalries), which might create emotional problems the parent cannot handle...Indeed, what begins with ignorance, unfortunate circumstances, or infant need is often prolonged by psychology, as the parent reacts or overreacts to the child's anxious pattern.....Circumstances and ignorance, of course, can change much more readily than parental psychology. But, even if the miraculous happened, and parents with all their deeply ingrained psychological baggage were suddenly liberated and able to let their love flow without the anxieties, conflicts, sore points, and poor habits that have been built up and reinforced over the course of a lifetime, the child might have a hard time seeing the change. The avoidant child doesn't want to be tempted to open himself to hope or trust...the ambivalent child, meanwhile, whose care has been inconsistent or chaotic, cannot believe that a caring gesture is any more than a passing fancy." -pg. 227


"One way or another, it would seem important to reach insecurely attached children by adolesence, because that's when it is believed that their patterns become more firmly set....clinical experience strongly suggests change is most easily accomplished during the earlier years, when a steadfast parent or an available teacher can turn a child around." -pg. 229


"Lewis believed that shame [resulting from insecure attachment] was always accompanied by what she called 'humiliated fury' and that this helped account for the angry resistance of the ambivalent child in the Strange Situation." -pg. 246


"...to a growing number of developmentalists, the quality of early attachment to the primary caregiver stood out, like the key in which an otherwise complicated piece of music is played, imbuing the personality of many children with a characteristic inflection that is present from movement to movement." -pg. 247


"One of the grown children interviewed by Crowell and Everett, who had been anxiously attached to his mother at age 1, seemed to have emerged into a secure adult because at age 8, when he developed diabetes, his mother became for him the loving caretaker she had not been before....it will only be later, perhaps in adolescence, when these children again long for closeness, that the early damage will be apparent....The reports of child therapists, describing the enormous struggles they go through to help young children deal with disturbed relationships with their parents, are sobering in this regard: Yes, change is possible, but it is often difficult, and we should value every effort to get the parent-child relationship off to a good start." -pg. 258

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"The mothers of the two insecure groups rated equally low on all four measurements, the main difference being that, while the mothers of the ambivalent children were often maddeningly unpredictable, the mothers of avoidant children were substantially more rejecting...the behavior of these anxious mothers ranged from mean-spirited to merely cool, from chaotic to pleasantly incompetent. Many of these mothers were nice people and well-meaning parents who took pride in their babies and had various means of expressing their love...but what they all had in common was difficulty responding to the baby's attachment needs in a loving, attuned, and consistent way. Inevitably this problem was more compounded as the babies became more demanding and distressed, the mothers more irritable and overwhelmed." -pg 155-156

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I haven't read the book.


Although I think the first 12 months are certainly critical, I question the premise that the first year determines much of the rest of our lives. That said, I haven't seen the studies that this book is based on - so maybe there is more to it.




I haven't read the book, but am likely familiar with many of the studies.


The reason for the impact isn't mental in the sense of thinking the way we typically think of it. It is that the developing brain is impacted - neurologically, chemically, structurally - during a critical (the first critical) window of development.


Trauma impacts the brain from a physiological standpoint.

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pleasantly incompetent...LOL


That still all sounds so garbled to me though. I was a psychology major and have always enjoyed reading stuff like this. But sometimes I swear they just make words up that don't mean anything. ; )


I'm glad someone else said it first. The writing style makes me visualize someone existing on coffee and low sleep, getting all deep about not much.


I wonder if this person has multiple kids (and spends much time with them), because that real-life experience would tell him that you can do everything exactly the same for two kids from birth onward, and you'll still get two very different kids - one of whom may be anxious etc. And also, if you are blessed with a child with a glitch in the wiring, no amount of awesome parenting is going to let you sidestep that.


"Pleasantly incompetent" sounds to me like basically every parent who raised my generation (if you go by AP standards). We might as well all give up right now.


ETA: I would also like to know how the author (or the folks who gathered the data for the studies) knew better than the moms what the babies' "attachment needs" were. I'm talking about the "pleasantly incompetent" parents who tried but just missed the mark somehow (supposedly).

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I know very little about my early childhood. My mother wouldn't talk about that period of my life. In my late teens it dawned on me that my mother had significant mental health issues, and things began to get clearer. I saw her parenting for what it was, and I rejected it.


When I became a parent, that gap became more troubling to me. What about my infancy made my mother silent? She wasn't someone I went to for advice and encouragement at any time of my life, and I have to believe that the attachment was poor. But at least I recognized it and dealt with it.


So certainly the first 12 months can have an impact. But I would also say that they can be worked through in some cases.

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