Child Development (Montessori)

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Sensitive Mothering is essential to the social and emotional development of the child. Discuss this statement in the context of relevant development theory.

Explain what is meant by the term Sensitive Mothering. Explain why sensitive mothering is important in building a positive emotional base.

Link this explanation to Bowlby’s attachment theory and Ainsworth’s studies. You will need to show an understanding of the internal working model of attachment and how sensitive mothering impacts the quality of attachment.

Links also need to be made to Erikson’s relevant psychological stages of personality development, emphasizing the importance of a supportive social environment.

Consider research that determines how early attachment impacts social and emotional development of three to five year olds and adults.

Bowlby (1969 cited in Nicholls & Kirkland, 1996, p.55) states that an important element in the development of secure attachment is maternal sensitivity. This is necessary in order to engender an infant’s confidence in a mother's accessibility and responsiveness. Ainsworth et al (1978 cited in Barnes, 1995, p.14) opine that maternal sensitivity predicts the extent of attachment between mother and infant.

“Mothers who are more sensitive, responsive, accessible
and cooperative during their child’s first year are
likely to have a child who develops a secure attachment”.
Ainsworth et al, (1978 cited in Barnes, 1995, p.14)

A sensitive mother thus is;

“… alert to perceive her baby’s signals, interprets these signals accurately, and responds promptly and appropriately.
Ainsworth et al, (1978 cited in Nicholls and Kirkland, 1996, p.55)

Sensitive Mothering portrays how a mother interacts with her child and is related to the development of the mother-child relationship. The characteristics of Sensitive Mothering are a “prompt, appropriate and consistent response” (Ainsworth et al, 1978 cited in Nicholls and Kirkland, 1996, p.56) to a child’s need, which fits the situation and provides what the child needs at that particular time. Consistency is important because it is the foundation of building trust in a Mother. A child learns by experience, therefore whenever the child is distressed, and the Mother responds promptly, appropriately and consistently on each occasion, a pattern develops, and the child learns and anticipates that when s/he is upset, the Mother will always respond.

A Sensitive Mother is aware of the child’s state (Chibucos & Kail, 1981); she constantly reads the child’s cues and responds to activities and behaviour the child initiates (Marfo, 1992); she shows that her primary concern is for the child, not herself (Skinner, 1995); she does not act in accordance with her state, wishes or activities (Goldberg, et al 1986); and she modifies her behaviour when the baby expresses a particular response (Crittendale, 1981). Ainsworth et al, (1978) further states that sensitivity includes viewing the child as a separate person and respecting their activity in progress, not intruding or interrupting whatever s/he is engaged in (p.236).

A (sensitive) mother is flexible and can tune into a child’s feeling. She sees the child as a person with needs, feelings and emotions and is “mind-minded” about the child (Laranjo et al., 2008). Maternal sensitivity “mediates the relation between mind-mindedness and infant attachment” (ibid, p.1) and the “mind-minded” attribute enables the mother to give more thought to and consistent care for a baby’s feelings and circumstances. These in turn make the child feel valued, loved and secure and attached to the Mother.

Boulby (1988) states that attachment behaviour, that is, attaining proximity to some other “individual who is conceived as better able to cope with the world” (p.29) is an “integral part of human nature and a fundamental form of behaviour with its own internal motivation”(p.30). It inevitably...
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