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The normal experiences of an infant in a loving family naturally promote attachment. The child feels a "need," such as hunger, thirst, discomfort, or fear. He fusses, cries, vocalizes, or in some way expresses this need, and becomes progressively more 'aroused'. The parents respond with attention and attempt to satisfy the need (feeding, changing diaper, rocking, touching, making eye contact, vocal soothing). The infant's gratification results in trust that his needs will be fulfilled, that his parents will protect and care for him, and that he will be loved and nurtured.

This process has been described as "attunement", as the parent and child synchronize their emotions. Some physiologic processes, such as heart rate, also become attuned. In normal family life, this cycle is repeated countless times during infancy and childhood. Through these patterns, the child learns what kind of person he is and what kind of responses to expect from people around him; these internal models are carried into adulthood. The child learns to accept a range of emotions and behaviors in his parents and in himself.

Early social responses develop in concert with the normal stages of attachment. Children exhibit a nonspecific smiling response at approximately 3 months, followed by specific social smiling that differentiates among individuals. Reactions to strangers (carefully examines, frowns, cries at unknown face) evolve; by 6-12 months separation and stranger anxiety emerge. Children begin to protest a caregiver's departure, eagerly greet the caregiver on return, cling when frightened, and follow the caregiver when able. By 8-10 months of age, a preferred relationship with one (or a few) caregiver(s) has been established; this relationship solidifies by 18 months of age.


From THE HANDBOOK OF INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION MEDICINE by Laurie C. Miller. © 2004 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Used by Permission.


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