LITERATURE REVIEW OF CHILD - PARENT/CAREGIVER ATTACHMENT THEORY
AND CROSS-CULTURAL PRACTICES INFLUENCING ATTACHMENT.
By P.N. Reebye M.D. FRCPC, S.E. Ross M.Sc. RDN, K. Jamieson
With the Assistance of Jason M. Clark B.A. (Hons.)
of the Content of the Literature Review
of the Literature Review
The Purpose of the National Research Project
Scope of the Literature Review
Parameters and Limitations of the Review
2. ATTACHMENT THEORY AND ITS APPLICATION
Summary of the Concept and Application of Attachment
Major Components of Attachment Theory
Types of Attachment Styles and Behaviours
Early attachment and impact on later functioning
3. CROSS - CULTURAL STUDIES OF ATTACHMENT
Studies of Attachment
Cross-Cultural Studies on Attachment Classification
Studies Conducted in Africa
Studies Conducted in Germany
Studies Conducted in Japan
Studies Conducted in China
Studies Conducted in Israel
4. PARENTING, CARE-GIVING AND ATTACHMENT PRACTICES
the parent/caregiver in attachment relationships
Parent/Caregiver limitations in facilitating attachment
5. CROSS-CULTURAL STUDIES, ATTACHMENT AND PARENTING PRACTICES
Parenting Styles to Attachment Styles
A Framework for Considering Cross-Cultural Attachment
Cultural and Cross-Cultural Studies on Parenting Practices
Ethno-Cultural Groups in Canada
Cultural Patterns of Parenting
Gaps in the literature
Final comments and reflections on the literature from
Roles and Backgrounds of the Writers
of the Content of the Literature Review
This literature review is in seven sections:
Section 1, the Introduction discusses the purpose
and objectives of the review and provides an overview of the paper,
its scope and its limitations.
Section 2, Attachment Theory and its Application
provides a brief context for understanding the literature discussed
in this report and a summary of the concepts, terms, and application
of attachment. Section 3, Cross Cultural Studies of Attachment,
looks at cross-cultural attachment classification, cross-cultural
adoption, and studies on attachment conducted in Africa, Germany,
Japan, China, and Israel.
Section 4, Parenting, Care-giving and Attachment Practices,
focuses on issues in the literature related to understanding the
caregiver and caregiver limitations.
Section 5, Cross-Cultural Studies, Attachment and Parenting
Practices, looks at the literature on parenting and attachment
styles across cultures and suggests a framework for considering
cross-cultural attachment and parenting practices.
Section 6, the Conclusion, provides a critique of
the state of the literature on attachment cross-culturally.
Section 7 provides a list of the sources used in this review.
A supplement to this paper The History of Attachment Theory,
provides a review of the historical development of attachment theory,
the work of its major proponents and the evolution of their concepts.
In addition, the authors provide some final comments and raise some
of the questions that emerge from the review.
of the Literature Review
purpose of this literature review is:
"To provide the national project with a summary, and critique
of current research and knowledge on parent-child attachment practices
- particularly within the context of ethno-cultural communities
and in regards to the impact that migration may have on the practices
used by women /families within these communities". 
objectives of the review are to:
the national project with a summary and critique of the current
research and knowledge on parent/caregiver-child attachment across
- Present the
information in an accessible form for CAPC/CPNP staff and program
participants across the country;
- Provide a
basis for critical discussion of this issue across Canada.
review is retrospective, in that it looks back at the research
on attachment that has already been done. It provides background
information for a prospective study that is being conducted by the
Women's Health Centre and is designed to collect and analyze new
information on attachment across cultures in Canada for the CAPC
program of Health Canada.
Purpose of the National Research Project
The purpose of the national research project being conducted by
the Women's Health Centre SJHC/Parkdale Parents Primary Prevention
Project is described in their proposal to Health Canada as being:
"to acknowledge and validate parent-child attachment practices
used by women/families coming from diverse backgrounds and countries
abroad, and to recognize, in particular, the techniques that have
proved to be critical in the healthy development and attachment
of children in their first five years of life". The national
project provides the context for the literature review though the
review has a different purpose.
The members of the Women's Health Centre decided to conduct research
in this area because of their growing awareness that women immigrants
were likely to experience cultural disruption and even rejection
of the familiar child-rearing practices that reinforced their roles
in child development.
of the Literature Review
The literature examined for this review was derived primarily from
an extensive search of Medline, PsychInfo, sociological and ethnological
abstracts, Social Work, Family Studies, and Women's Studies abstracts
for English language peer-reviewed literature on child-rearing,
mother-child relations, parent-child relations, cross-cultural studies
of parenting, attachment behavior, ethnic identity and values, cultural
characteristics, and cultural diversity. The searches were limited
to the years 1980-1999 in order to present a contemporary and relevant
portrait of the attachment literature. Studies were deemed suitable
for inclusion if they dealt with issues of attachment in infancy
and early childhood (0-10 years). Studies of adult attachment were
excluded from this review. One hundred and ninety-eight references
were reviewed, including six critical reviews of the literature
In addition to the above references, a number of key studies published
between 1930 - 1999 that provide an overview of the development
of attachment theory and learning were used.
In conducting this review of the literature on the infant/child-parent/caregiver
relationship¾ known as attachment - the authors aimed
to clarify how the concept is defined, described, operationalized
Additional interconnected questions, related to the Women's Health
Centre project goals and to the broad goals of the CAPC Program
that the authors of this review asked, included: What if anything
does the literature tell us about characteristics of the attachment
relationship that better prepare a child to relate well to others,
both within their family and outside their family, to be successful
in school and in adult life generally? Are these characteristics
the same for all mothers and children regardless of culture? What
effects do different cultural and parenting practices have on the
relationship between child and parent/caregiver?
and Limitations of the Review.
is important to note the following limitations of the study.
1) While this review is designed to provide background information
for the major study that the Women's Health Centre is conducting,
its purpose and objectives are different and limited to summarizing
and critiquing research that has already been published. As is true
of any literature review, this review can only reflect what the
literature includes, and, unlike the empirical research being generated
in the rest of the study by the Women's Health Centre, cannot generate
hypotheses. However, wherever possible, the researchers have identified
what are, in their view, biases and critical gaps in the existing
2) The literature on attachment and cross-cultural
practices related to attachment is found primarily in the fields
of social science, and medicine. Unsurprisingly, much of the language,
terminology and discussion in the literature on attachment are quite
technical and often abstruse. Whenever it is deemed possible to
do so without losing or changing the sense, technical language and
concepts are explained in plain English in this review. However,
the language and concepts of a particular author sometimes have
specific meanings ascribed to them that cannot be accurately explained
in different words without distorting the meaning.
Agreement between the Women's Health Centre, SJHC Parkdale Parents
Primary Prevention Project and the Social Planning and Research Council
of BC. April 12, 1999, p.3.
Summary of the Concept and Application of Attachment
The term attachment means different things to different people,
such as commitment, love, affection, warmth or even loyalty. Even
in the scientific literature there seems to be an overlap between
attachment, bonding, and affiliation. In this paper we use the term
"attachment" as it is most often used to refer specifically
to the relationship between an infant (and young child) and the
infant/child's parent (usually mother) or preferred caregiver.
The concept was pioneered by British psychiatrist John Bowlby in
the 1940's and is based in part on his observations of children
in institutions. Bowlby saw attachment as being crucial to a child's
personality development and to the development of healthy ways of
relating to others. His theory borrows from ethology, cognitive
psychology, control systems theory, and object relations theory.
These multidisciplinary concepts all emphasize patterns of
parent-infant relationships, and qualitative aspects within
these relationships. (The historical development of attachment theory
is discussed in more detail in a supplement to this report).
Bowlby described four infant behavioral systems - the exploratory
system where the infant explores the world around them, the affiliative
system where the infant learns to be with others, the fear/wariness
system that helps the infant learn about dangers and to stay safe,
and the attachment system that helps the infant to seek proximity
to their attachment figure and develop a sense of security. He identified
the attachment system as the most important of the four. Besides
the attachment system described above, there are descriptions of
attachment behaviors, attachment bonds and attachment relationships.
Attachment behaviors is the term used to refer to the actions
or signals of infants, such as crying, smiling and vocalizing, which
help to bring their caregiver into close proximity. In later stages,
the infant/ toddler will physically approach their caregiver, by
crawling and walking toward them.
Newborns arrive well equipped to play an active role in developing
and maintaining an attachment relationship. Most are alert at birth,
and are soon able to respond to human language (Condon & Sander,
1974) and to synchronize their movement with an adult. A two-day
old infant, for example, can discriminate between their mother's
face and odour, and the face and odour of others (Field et al.,
1984). The emerging research on infant-caregiver relationships emphasizes
this active participation on the part of infants.
The term attachment bond is normally reserved for the warm, intuitive
feelings felt by the caregiver/parent towards the child. The attachment
relationship is increasingly recognized as the domain of the child
Components of Attachment Theory.
The important elements in attachment theory are as follows: attachment
is universal to all humans; it is not race or culture-specific;
it is instinctive and biological; attachment is an 'understanding',
not learned through reasoning or teaching; it is, therefore, intuitive;
multiple attachments occur, but attachments are ranked and generally
mother-infant is primary; it is, thus, hierarchical; attachment
is about a close (usually affectionate) relationship, and its impact
lasts from cradle to grave; it is, therefore, enduring and lasting.
The basic tenet of attachment theory is that the reciprocal relationship
between the child/infant and the caregivers has a biological
basis. The main function of this attachment relationship is to increase
chances of survival for the infant by helping the infant to seek
proximity to someone who will care for him or her.
The attachment relationship also takes into account the emotional
aspects of infant-mother relationships. Bowlby argued that the establishment
of "felt security" for the infant and development by the
infant/child of "internal working models" is crucial,
and that unwanted separation from the attachment figure gives rise
to emotional distress.
Current concepts of attachment theory accept that the infant may
form selective attachments to a number of persons. However, a hierarchical
aspect among the relationships is respected. (Bowlby, 1969/1982;
It is also accepted that attachment behaviors will be exhibited
according to the degree to which the attachment system is activated.
Thus, the literature suggests, attachment security in a mother-infant
relationship is related to her accessibility and appropriate responsiveness
to the infant. Once established, the security of the mother/caregiver
relationship is highly stable over time. In addition, the research
suggests that attachment security predicts other aspects of a child's
development such as social competence, or problem solving. (Sroufe
et al., 1990; Sroufe et al., 1992).
of Attachment Styles and Behaviours
Mary Ainsworth's work is seminal in understanding the currently
accepted distinctive patterns of different attachment relationships.
Her use of the so-called "strange situation" experiments
allowed classification of observable attachment patterns. (Ainsworth
et al., 1969; Ainsworth et al., 1971).
Ainsworth studied the behavior of young toddlers (12 to 20 months)
through the use of "strange situation" experiments. This
structured observation procedure focuses on the balance that the
toddler achieves between attachment and exploratory behavior when
moderate stress is introduced. Three classifications of attachment
were described by Ainsworth: a) Secure Attachment, b) Insecure Attachment-Avoidant,
and c) Insecure Attachment-Ambivalent.
The secure toddlers were those who use their mothers/caregivers
as a secure base for exploration. On reunion with their mother,
they greeted the parent with smiles, positive gestures and vocalizations.
They sought comfort from their mother when they were separated,
but were easy to soothe and comfort upon her return, and could renew
their exploratory activity once comforted. Secure infants were found
to be engaged in more rewarding interactions with their caregivers
(Isabella and Belsky, 1990).
The insecure (often described as anxious) group of toddlers showed
two different patterns of response termed avoidant and ambivalent.
The avoidant pattern was characterized by little display of secure
base behavior. On separation from their caregivers, toddlers exhibited
minimal discomfort. On reunion with their mother/caregiver, they
sought distance from the parent and showed more interest in the
toy objects than the parent. The ambivalent pattern was seen in
the toddlers who were either fretful or passive. They reacted in
a distressed manner to separation from their mother, but on reunion,
showed signs of angry rejection and were not soothed by her return.
At a later stage, Mary Main and others (1981; 1982; 1985; 1986:
1994) built on this work and described a fourth attachment category
- the disorganized or disoriented group of toddlers.
These were children who did not demonstrate a characteristic or
predictable attachment response to the strange situation. They reacted
in disorganized way to the stranger and stress. This category of
attachment was apparent in high-risk children (i.e. those with a
history of neglect or abuse) on a regular basis.
Although the original attachment classifications have been described
for toddlers up to 20 months, there have been several attempts to
classify attachment relationships in older children and in the adult
population (Bartholomew & Shaver, 1998). More recently, attachment
relationships have been described using home-based measures of attachment.
Two important approaches have been used to classify attachment styles
of preschool children - the picture response procedures developed
by Kaplan and Main (1986) and the study of representational-based
attachment security founded on observation of doll play. The Cassidy-Marvin
(1992) systems and the Preschool Assessment of Attachment (PAA)
have also studied attachment patterns in preschool children.
attachment and impact on later functioning
The theoretical basis of most of the attachment research is that
secure attachment in infancy will predict good psycho-social outcomes
in later years. However, many other factors can be expected to modify
the impact of secure attachment on later functioning, including
cultural variations of attachment, psychosocial circumstances, factors
within the child (e.g. child temperament), and intergenerational
transmission of values and beliefs.
Secure infants engage in mutually rewarding interactions with their
mothers (Isabella & Belski, 1991). Main & Cassidy (1988)
found a relaxed harmony in the relationships between securely attached
six-year-olds and their parents. The consistent theme of research
findings is that the harmony between the mother and infant in early
years has benefits in the immediate post toddler phase of relationship
development and in the later development of peer relationships.
Securely attached children are more likely to have close friends,
be more socially competent, more accepted by their peer group, have
more empathy for others and be able to read emotional cues (Leiberman,
1977; Water, Whippman & Sroufe, 1979; Minnesota Parent-Child
The findings from the Minnesota Parent-Child Project of Middle Class
families suggest that children with secure histories were more self
reliant and better problem solvers. They found that being secure
did not guarantee optimal mental health and social adjustment for
each individual child, but it was one the important protective factors
for emotional well-being. Secure attachment is thought to be one
of the protective factors involved in the development of resiliency
(Sroufe, 1997; Steinhauer, 1998).
In contrast, children with (anxious) insecure attachment histories
were found to be less confident and more reliant on others to have
their needs met, and more at risk for psychosocial malfunctioning,
such as somatic complaints, social withdrawal (Lewis et al., 1984),
anxiety disorders (Warren et al., 1997). Avoidant children exhibit
different forms of social incompetence - they are often identified
as the bullies by their peers and are hostile and aggressive (Troy
& Sroufe, 1987). The research on conduct problems in early childhood
concludes that both avoidant and disorganized children are at a
greater risk (Greenberg et al., 1993). Carlson, Chicchetti and other
(1989) found that 82% of children who had been maltreated had a
history of disorganized/disoriented attachments.
Overall, research findings to date substantiate the proposition
of attachment theory that a child's attachment history does matter.
There are few longitudinal studies that can inform us about the
impact of attachment styles over time, but there is more concerted
effort at present to examine the impact of early relationships on
later functioning. Certain risk factors seem to have greater or
lesser impact on specific developmental stages of a child's life.
Security in early relationships for the infant to preschool child,
cognitive competence and motivation for the middle childhood years,
and parental norms regarding behaviour during the adolescent period
(Greenberg, 1993) appear to be critical for healthy development.
An understanding of how it evolved historically facilitates any
assessment of the current state of knowledge of attachment theory,
its usefulness and its limitations. For readers who have not had
the opportunity to study the evolution of the concept of attachment
in the scientific literature, we have provided a summary from the
highly regarded book written by Robert Karen (1994) as a supplement
to this report.
There is an extensive literature on attachment. Key publications
that might be considered essential reading in this area have been
bolded in the reference section.
Studies of Attachment
The idea that attachment fulfills the instinctual needs of
a human baby (beyond feeding) is an important concept of attachment
theory. It directs us to understand the mother-infant relationship
as one that effects all humans, thus encompassing all cultural boundaries,
and/or ethnic child rearing practices.
Bowlby's (1951) landmark report for the World Health Organization
-"Maternal Care and Mental Health" was the result of his
collection of data from different western countries such as France,
Holland, Sweden, and the United States. The notion that maternal
care is as important for mental health in infancy and childhood
"as are vitamins and proteins for physical health" (p.
67) became commonly accepted internationally as a result of this
The cultural dimensions of attachment and related research have
always been seen as important. As early as the 1950s, Spitz's studies
on the effects of maternal deprivation on infants were critiqued
for not taking cultural, racial and socio-economic factors into
account (cited in Pinneau, 1955).
However, the cornerstone of the current understanding of infant-mother
attachment behaviors is grounded in the cross-cultural observations
of Mary Ainsworth (1963; 1967) who completed her first studies in
Uganda. Her second study of American babies replicated her findings
about patterns of attachment that she observed with the Ganda babies.
Essentially she found that the attachment relationship was applicable
to these two diverse groups, recognizing that some attachment behaviours
differed (e.g. American children hugged and kissed whereas the Ganda
children clapped when their 'attachment figure' returned). Several
challenges have been directed to the replicability of Ainsworth's
attachment classifications in different cultures. A review the literature
and important studies addressing these issues follows.
Studies on Attachment Classification
of the complexities of cross-cultural research is the recognition
that infants and children learn to behave in a manner conducive
to their successful adaptation within the cultural norms around
them. Although, the intuitive part of the infant-mother attachment
experience is well accepted, the observed relationship reflects
the required patterns of their immediate social milieu. The infant
behaves in a manner that responds to maternal behavior that is both
intuitive and reflective of expected behaviour in their community.
There are many different ways to organize cross-cultural studies.
They are grouped here according to the country of origin.
Conducted in Africa
and Leideman (1986) studied 26 families and children aged 8 to 27
months. A strange situation experiment was constructed with some
modifications. An interesting finding was that the secure Guiessi
babies greeted their caregivers by extending a hand, mirroring the
culturally accepted behavior of adults who greet one another with
a handshake. The insecure Gueissi babies avoided their caregiver
and explored the surrounding environment. The study did not differentiate
between the avoidant and ambivalent insecure attachment classifications.
The attachment classification found for the Gueissi dyads 
was similar to the findings in Western studies,
with 61% demonstrating secure attachment to their mothers and 54%
to other non-maternal caregivers.
In this culture, the mothers carried out physical caring activities,
while non-maternal caregivers were more involved in socializing
and cognitive development activities. This was reflected in the
finding that secure attachment with mother was related to an infant's
nutritional status and secure attachment with non-maternal caregivers
was related to higher cognitive task achievement by the infants.
Another study that provides important cross-cultural information
is True's (1994) Dogon study. True's findings for secure attachment
were comparable to other studies, and were held to provide validity
for the use of the 'strange situation' methods cross-culturally.
In addition, the disorganized (disoriented) attachment classification
was studied in this African sample. The findings regarding insecure
attachment included 23% classified as disorganized infants (compared
to15% in western samples), and an absence of avoidant infants. The
increased percentage of disorganized infants was attributed in the
research to higher perceived stress by the infant-mother Dogon dyad
resulting from the strange situation procedures.
Marvin et al's (1977) Nigerian Hausa study showed how polymatric
(multiple mother figures) care of infants influences attachment
behaviours. The study results were consistent with current understandings
of a hierarchy of attachment relationships (cf. Bowlby) in that
children formed attachment relationships with many maternal figures,
but they demonstrated a preference for one relationship over all
the others. The preferred maternal figure was the one who held them
most frequently and had more opportunities to interact with the
This study also gives us insight into how parental behavior affects
the measurement of attachment relationships. Hausa caregivers were
sensitive to their infants' signals; however, they restricted their
infants from physically moving around to explore their surroundings
- an indicator of 'felt security'. This comparative restriction
of physical movement has implications for use of the accepted methods
of measuring attachment behaviours.
Conducted in Germany
Klaus and Karin Grossman et al. (1981; 1985), studied children in
Bielefeld in northern Germany and found two thirds of their sample
to be insecurely attached, and one half of these children to be
avoidant (two and a half times the figure for avoidant children
in middle-class American studies). The avoidant nature of the children
was attributed in part to the fact that independence was highly
valued by northern German parents and early self-reliance was encouraged
before their first birthday. However, the long-term effects of the
avoidant attachment were seen in poor peer relationships and in
greater rather than less dependence of the children at age ten.
Secure infants were seen to be more confident, self-reliant and
resilient at that age.
The same researchers carried out a second study in southern Germany
and found the secure and insecure attachment classifications from
this sample to be very similar to American studies.
In interpreting the two studies and comparing the results to Sroufe's
sample, the researchers came to believe that the high rate of avoidant
attachment should not be discounted as culturally normative. The
end of the first year seems to be a critical period for babies in
the development of the attachment relationship (Ainsworth, 1982),
and the early requirement of babies to be emotionally independent
by northern German mothers came at a cost to the child's later well
being. As a result, they urged changes in some of the strongly held
German opinions about child rearing (Grossman & Grossman, 1991).
Their issue was that independence is found to result from continuing
sensitive responsiveness on the part of the mothers, and is not
realized by training or withdrawing support and expressions of love.
Conducted in Japan
Two studies using the strange situation methodology - the Tokyo
study and the Sapporo study - are generally cited. The results of
the Tokyo study (Durrett et al., 1984) showed distribution of the
infant-mother attachment classifications consistent with other international
findings. Mothers of securely attached infants in this study reported
greater spousal support than mothers of insecurely (avoidant) attached
infants. The Sapporo study (Takahashi, 1986) showed a different
distribution of attachment classification - however both the sample
selection and study procedures were modified. The different results
of these two studies have raised important questions regarding the
use of standardized procedures in conducting cross-cultural attachment
Literature on the study of attachment in the Japanese culture is
complicated by the concept of amae (a relationship with emotional
dependence on the caregiver akin to an attachment relationship)
which is considered similar to the concept of attachment (Doi, 1989;
1992). However, scientific exploration using attachment Q-sort procedures-a
participant self-report technique¾linked dependency with
amae, but not attachment security with amae (ref Vaughn &
Waters, 1990; Vereijken, 1996 p.724).
It is important to note that much of the research in this area had
been conducted in "artificial" laboratory settings. Bornstein
and colleagues (1992), however, examined, compared and discussed
key characteristics of maternal responsiveness to infant
activity in home settings in New York, Paris and Tokyo. Many of
the predicted maternal responses were commonly seen in all three
settings including appropriate response to infant's basic needs,
nurturing response to infant vocalizing distress, encouraging exploration
of the environment, and imitating infant's non-distress vocalization.
Different culture-specific response patterns were observed, for
example, in response to infant's looking rather than vocalizing,
and to whether mothers encouraged others beside themselves to engage
in the interactions.
Conducted in China
little research on socio-emotional development or attachment has
taken place in China and it is not known how representative any
one study might be.
The Beijing study conducted by Gao and Wu (cited in Posada et al.,
1995) attempted to explore the existence of the secure base phenomena
in the Chinese population, and to develop a consensus on the profile
of a typical secure child as described by Chinese mothers. They
found that Chinese mothers perceived the ideal child to be one that
is securely attached, and when asked to describe the profile of
a securely attached child, both the experts' and mothers' profiles
were in agreement.
Tang (1992) provides an overview of the psychoanalytic implications
of Chinese philosophy and child-rearing practices. Ho (1994) and
others suggest that Chinese culture values interdependence over
independence, and that Chinese parents emphasize emotional harmony
and control in relationships. A study by Lin and Fu (1990) found
that the high value given interdependence within the family
was totally compatible with support for independence in the wider
social context external to the family, since this is generally
recognized as being required for success at school and work.
The first study of attachment in China using the strange situation
methods was conducted by Hu and Meng (1996) from Peking University
in Beijing with 31 mothers and infants. There were 15 girls and
16 boys in the sample, each being an only child. Grandmothers played
a key role as substitute caregivers. The distribution of attachment
classifications was similar to the international comparisons with
68% being classified as secure, and 32% classified as insecure attachments.
The results were similar for female and male infants. The researchers
were not confident about their findings and interpretation, particularly
with regard to the avoidant classification. However, the findings
seemed to support the relevance of caregiver sensitivity in attachment
development. Mothers of secure infants were more involved in child
care than mothers of avoidant infants.
Conducted in Israel
Sagi et al (1985) found important differences in the attachment
security of Kibbutz infants who sleep in a collective sleeping arrangement
at night versus infants who returned to their parents to sleep for
the night - the latter being more secure. Inconsistent responsiveness
(mother/caregiver during the day; unfamiliar person at night) is
suggested as the reason for the higher proportion of insecure attachment
among the communally sleeping infants. Several Israeli studies (Sagi
et al., 1985, 1994, 1997) have consistently shown an over-representation
of ambivalent and an under-representation of avoidant insecure attachment
classifications when compared to international norms. Studies to
pursue the reason for this occurrence have not been completed.
In the Netherlands, 80 mothers and infants adopted from Sri Lanka,
South Korea and Colombia were observed at home at 6 and 12 months
to assess the adoptive mother's sensitivity, and in a 'strange situation'
at 12 and 18 months to assess infant-mother attachment (Juffer &
Rosenboom, 1997). All interracially adopted infants were placed
before 6 month of age (mean age of 11 weeks) in adoptive families.
Using Ainsworth's classification, 74% demonstrated secure attachment
relationships. The adoptive mother's sensitivity seems comparable
to that of non-adoptive parents. The author's suggest these results
might be attributable to adoption at a young age. This would concur
with the maternal deprivation studies cited earlier.
Marcovitch et al. (1997) assessed developmental status, attachment
and behavioural problems in 56 Romanian orphans (aged 3-5 years)
adopted in Ontario. The group as a whole was functioning in the
normal range and was considered well adjusted, but children who
had experienced less than 6 month of institutional care had better
outcomes than the rest on developmental measures. Secure attachment
was less frequent than normally expected and avoidant attachment
was not observed. Children who had more institutional experience,
those who were developmentally less competent, and those who were
insecurely attached had more parent-reported behaviour problems.
Mainemer, Gilman and Ames (1998) evaluated parenting stress in 39
families that adopted 43 Romanian orphans. Predictors of stress
included attachment security and the number of behaviour problems
as well as family factors.
In summary, the distribution of secure attachment classification
in different countries shows a striking similarity. For example
67% U.S. (21 samples); Western Europe, 66% (9 samples); Africa (3
studies) 57-69%; China, 68% (1 study); Japan, (2 studies) 61-68%
(van IJzendoorn &.Sagi, 1999). The distribution of types of
insecure (avoidant and ambivalent) and disorganized attachment classifications,
if measured, are less consistent. Differences have been attributed
to the over-riding expression of a cultural value, such as dependency
or independence, and to differences in perceived stress generated
by the strange situation methods between mother-infant dyads with
different cultural experiences.
In Psychology, the term "dyad" refers to a pair or "twosome."
In the Attachment literature, it often used to describe the infant
or child and his or her primary attachment figure. Other terms such
as infant-mother, mother-child, parent-child or infant-caregiver attachment
relationship are all meant to be one and the same. Dyad is used to
more accurately reflect that the primary attachment figure is not
necessarily the mother or parent.
in attachment relationships
The primary attachment
relationship is essentially dyadic in nature - that is, it
is a relationship developed as a result of the actions, interactions
and responses of two partners. To understand this relationship requires
more than observation of what the parent/preferred caregiver and infant/child
do together. The full description must include how the relationship
is developed, and, at the simplest level, what predictable patterns
of interaction over time will determine the quality of the relationship.
It is not only the frequency of positive interactions that determine
security of attachment, but the established pattern of interactions
within the dyad that matter.
The attachment literature indicates that mothers of securely attached
infants are available and responsive to the needs and signals of their
infants (Ainsworth, 1978; Isabella & Belsky, 1990). A well adjusted,
secure mother-infant dyad will be the one where both parties are enjoying
each other's company, and the infant is feeling 'secure' with his/her
mother. A secure infant can depend upon his/her parent/caregiver when
in distress; the parent/caregiver, in turn, is attuned to the infant's
needs and is able to respond in a sensitive, responsible way most
of the time.
Mothers of ambivalent children are more likely to be inconsistent
in their responses and under-involved as parents. Mothers of avoidant
children are more likely to be rejecting and emotionally aloof, and
do not read distress signals well or respond to them appropriately
(Ainsworth et al, 1978).
The parent/care-giving aspect of the infant-parent relationship deserves
discussion. There are important differences between parenting/care-giving
and attachment systems. The primary goal of parenting/caregiving is
to protect the child, while the primary goals in attachment are to
be in close proximity to the attachment figure and to be provided
with a secure 'base'.
Most parents look after the basic physical needs of their infants
and children (feeding, clothing, keeping them warm, ensuring sleep,
etc.), provide the necessary psychological support (loving, warmth,
emotional needs), help them with social adaptation (stages of development),
and guide their cognitive development (stimulating environment, teaching
problem solving, developing school readiness). These are characteristics
of 'good enough' parenting (Winnecott, 1965).
A good parent/care-giving system may include provision of basic
parenting tasks and complete psychological tasks, but it may or may
not include attachment bonding which is specific for that mother and
The contributions of parents/caregivers to maintaining attachment
systems have been looked at in a limited way. One argument, that parent/care-giving
behaviours have a direct and indirect impact on the attachment relationship,
is gaining momentum. Carol George and Judith Solomon (1999), for example,
argue that mothers have been considered only as 'variables' in attachment
research and have not received consideration as whole persons.
Considerable work has been done on mental representations or internal
working models (see Bowlby, 1973). Internal working models are believed
to reflect what an infant experiences in interaction with his or her
mother (or primary caregiver) and are interpreted as 'approximately'
correct internalizations of the infant's objective experience with
a parent/caregiver (Bowlby, 1988). These working models include beliefs
and expectations regarding the value of one's self as loveable and
the availability of the parent/caregiver, taking into account social
regulators that influence attachment-related behaviours and affect
expression (Main, Kaplan & Cassidy, 1985; Cassidy, 1994).
Main and Goldwyn (1994) developed an extensive and comprehensive interview
method, the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI), to determine adult attachment
patterns. This interview taps adults perceived childhood attachment
experiences rather than real experiences in their life. Similar to
infant attachment classifications, adults who are categorized as autonomous
(secure), tend to value attachment relationships and describe their
relationships in a coherent and consistent manner. Adults in the preoccupied
category are still emotionally involved with their past attachment
experiences. Their interviews are often incoherent. (Cassidy &
Berlin, 1992). Adults who are described as dismissing either
idealize their parents or de-value the importance of attachment relationships.
'Unresolved' adults are unable to process losses or trauma in their
The concordance between AAI and Strange Situation Classifications
have been verified through research (Main, 1995). For example, there
was concordance between the autonomous adult and the secure infant,
the dismissing adult and the avoidant infant, and pre-occupied adults
and ambivalent infant attachment classifications.
It is not entirely clear how and/or if parents, as caregivers, transmit
their attachment patterns to their offspring. Bowlby suggested that
verbal and non-verbal communication patterns help in formulating secure
and insecure attachment relations. He also believed attachment patterns
are transmitted to the next generation through the manner in which
parents responded to their infant's needs. Bowlby suggested this is
an extended role of parents - beyond providing a secure base - to
be facilitators of their child's development of an internal representation
of their parental role.
With maltreated infants who have parents, who themselves have had
traumatic experiences in their childhood, intergenerational transmission
of attachment patterns is thought to occur. The research indicates
that it is the disorganization in the attachment relationship
that is the main casualty rather than the abusive experience alone
(Carlson et al., 1989). What is being transmitted forward as an internal
working model in disorganized attachments is a potentially harmful
combination of behavioural, physiological, affective and representational
patterns (Crittenden & Ainsworth, 1989).
in facilitating attachment relationships
The concept of a 'good enough' mother/parent that the human baby
needs to exist is an important one. To talk about a 'good enough
parent" is to absolve parents from having to be a 'super parent'.
What is expected is that parents support, understand and respond
to their infant in distress, or otherwise.
Bowlby speculated that when infants are separated from their attachment
figures they would show emotional reactions in a particular manner.
He elaborated these concepts in his trilogy entitled Loss
in three phases: protest, despair and detachment. Bowlby thus enhanced
our understanding of the phenomenology of grief. He offered explanations
of normative reactions to loss of an attachment figure and also
atypical forms of mourning. Chronic mourning is of particular interest
to the understanding of parenting practices. It may be inferred
from this that unresolved grief might be an issue for new immigrants
and refugees, and "good enough" parenting may become challenging
for parents faced with an unfamiliar milieu and experiencing grief.
However, studies that capture the interaction between good enough
parenting, attachment, and parental psychopathology show mixed results.
Children of mothers who had bipolar depression show high rates of
insecurity and the majority of these were disorganized/ disorientated.
Maternal anxiety similarly predicts a high percentage of insecure
children (Cassidy et al, 1992). Of importance are the findings that
the rates of child insecurity in groups of mildly depressed mothers
did not differ from those of the control groups (Radke-Yarrow et
al, 1985). As maternal depression and anxiety appear to be fairly
common conditions in new immigrants, these studies seem relevant.
The substance-abusing parent poses a complicated parenting situation.
The physical absence of the parent due to medical or emotional disability,
hospitalizations, and transient lifestyle all contribute to inconsistent,
erratic parenting. In addition, the effects of gestational substance
use may adversely effect the fetal development. The parent's capacity
to look after the infant when abstaining may not be in question,
but the unpredictable pattern of care-giving is not comprehensible
to an infant and results in insecure attachment patterns.
Adolescent caregivers have been a focus for researchers in understanding
issues of attachment and parenting practices (East et al., 1994;
McAnarney & Lawrence, 1986; Teberg et al., 1983)
A full literature review of parental psychopathology is beyond the
scope of this review. Examples are chosen that are relevant to mainstream
and prominent Canadian cultural groups.
Parenting Styles to Attachment Styles
Relationship development begins with the core/primary relationships
upon which increasingly more complex relationships are built - affective
development, cognitive development, social problem solving, peer
relationships and 'conscious formation' (the development of morals
and ethics). Parenting practices influence this hierarchy of development,
and in turn these practices are influenced by social, cultural practices
and beliefs (see diagram 1). Of critical importance
is the understanding that the core/primary relationships are affected
by a combination of attachment and parenting practices.
Parenting styles or care-giving practices can be reviewed in a variety
of ways. The key factors that influence 'good enough' parenting
will inevitably have an influence on attachment relationships. The
factors such as parental intuition, parental attitudes, attributions
and beliefs, learned parenting skills, accepted cultural and societal
parenting norms, family factors, and environmental factors such
as extended family support, poverty or unemployment - are the most
influential ones. Each of these, or all collectively, can be considered
from a cross-cultural perspective.
Framework for Considering
and Parenting Practices
are many definitions of 'culture', the following two definitions,
however, reflect our understanding of the term. Culture is the "knowledge,
experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion,
notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe,
and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people
in the course of generations through individual and group striving"
(Samovar and Porter, 1994). Anderson and Fenichel (1989) write about
culture being a framework that guides and bounds life practices
- not a rigidly prescribed set of behaviours or characteristics,
but rather a framework through which actions are filtered or checked
as individuals go about daily life. These cultural frameworks are
constantly evolving and being reworked.
When the cultural aspects of immigrants' parenting are taken
into account the issues to be considered are complex. In most cultures
there is some change from one generation to another in parenting
styles, often as a result of global changes in society and the family
environment (e.g. single parenting, dual family parenting, acceptance
of assisted parenting from extra-familial persons, inter-racial
adoptions, parenting by same sex couples, use of surrogate mothers).
These changes may accelerate in a new country.
There is an emerging scholarly interest in cross-cultural aspects
of attachment behaviours. This interest is triggered by the increased
global movement between countries and the increasing diversity of
immigrants settling in countries like Canada. Many complex attachment
behaviours and styles have become evident in studies observing infant-caregiver
relationships. These studies are complex for a number of reasons.
The concept of uniformity of attitude, beliefs and practices in
any given culture is challenged by the fact that all cultures are
dynamic. There is always an influx of new ideas. Even in countries
of origin where certain cultures are predominant, there may not
be a consistent and uniform pattern of parenting or attachment.
The questions that then arise are: In what ways do cultural parenting
patterns change in Canada where many cultures live side-by-side?
If ethnic minorities in Canada retain certain attitudes, beliefs,
values and practices from their native culture, what exactly will
they retain? How do changes in family networks and situations affect
Unfortunately, studies measuring the influence of culture-specific
parenting practices, attitudes or beliefs on attachment formulation,
are limited in number and scope.
The following diagram attempts to summarize from the literature
the ways in which socio-cultural norms and parenting practices affect
attachment relationships. The diagram offers a schematic framework
for exploring how the complex interplay of cultural values, beliefs,
parenting practices and other factors influence attachment and relationship
development. It shows the primary relationship as the building
block for the child's further development in affective and cognitive
development spheres, for social problem solving, for the creation
of peer relationships, and for conscious formation.
mother-infant relationship does not exist in a vacuum. In any given
culture this relationship is bound by accepted parenting practices
and socio-cultural influences. The focus of this section of the
paper is on how social and cultural aspects from non-dominant cultures
continue to effect parenting practices, which in turn influence
core or primary relationships.
In developing a cross-cultural framework or approach it is important
to identify similar and differing values, beliefs, and parenting
practices between and within different cultural groups. Current
work in attachment theory, focusing on the development of the core/primary
parent-child relationship, is useful in understanding 'good enough'
parenting practices from a cultural perspective. This perspective
can draw from cultural influences seen within the country of origin
as well as the way cultural influences are expressed within another
dominant culture over time, and for new immigrant or refugee families.
Studies on Parenting Practices
A number of cross-cultural studies exploring differences and similarities
in attachment related parenting practices are reported in the literature
and are noted in the reference section. Unfortunately, it is not
clear how generalizable these findings are to the study of attachment
practices of different cultures in Canada. However, the studies
may provide some insights that are useful in developing hypotheses
for cross-cultural studies on attachment in Canada. Some examples
A cross-cultural study of 409 infant-mother dyads (38 in Japan,
100 in Taiwan, and 271 in the United States) by Wang (1995) to compare
the amount and type of interaction time found significant differences
among the three cultural groups in the following variables: proximity,
clothing, soothing, playing, reading, holding and behaviour toward
the child when sleeping.
Bornstein and colleagues (1998) investigated and compared ideas
about parenting in Argentine, Belgian, French, Israeli, Italian,
Japanese and U.S. mothers of 20 month-old children. Mothers evaluated
their competence, satisfaction, investment, and role balance is
parenting and rated attributions of successes and failures in seven
parenting tasks to their own ability, effort or mood to the difficulty
of the task, or to child behaviour. Few cross-cultural similarities
emerged. Parents' self-evaluations and attributions help to explain
how and why parents parent and provide insight into the broader
cultural contexts of children's development.
Fernald and Morikawa (1993) explored the universal features and
cultural variation between American and Japanese mothers' speech
to infants at 6, 12 and 19 month in a cross-cultural study of 60
dyads observed playing at home. Mothers' speech in both cultures
shared characteristics such as linguistic simplification, frequent
repetition, and adjustments over the ages. The researchers found
cultural differences in interactional style and beliefs about child
rearing influenced the structure and content of speech to infants.
An example is that American mothers labeled objects more frequently
and consistently than Japanese mothers, whereas Japanese mothers
used the objects to engage infants in social routines more often
than American mothers did. Minami et al. (1995) looked at differences
in narrative patterns between Japanese and American families.
Cheung & Liu (1997) developed and tested a model to explain
the reciprocal relationship between parental distress and children's
behavioural adjustment problems and the effects of parent behaviour,
acceptance and social support or pressure in single parent Hong
Kong families. They found the effect of parental distress on acceptance
of their child was not significant.
Kisilevsky and colleagues (1998) from Queen's University School
of Nursing, conducted studies in China with forty 3-6 month-old
infants and compared the results to previous studies of Canadian
infants to examine cross-cultural differences using the 'still face'
method. Although Chinese infants took longer to begin to smile in
response to interaction with their mother, and mothers behaved somewhat
differently in the interaction, the infants' response was similar
for both cultures.
In a study of the crying pattern of 160 Korean infants between the
ages 1 to 6 months, and comparing the results with Western studies,
Lee (1994) found the duration of crying by Korean infants was shorter
and the time held and/or in close contact with mothers longer. Colic
was not seen in the Korean study.
Kong et al. (1988), from the National University of Singapore, examined
child-rearing practices of Chinese parents and their relationship
to behavioural problems in a sample of 401 toddlers. Although consistent
with cultural expectations, both low child-rearing involvement of
fathers and punitive types of discipline were significantly related
to the identified behaviour problems of toddlers.
Chen et al. (1998) from the University of Western Ontario studied
behaviour inhibition in Chinese and Canadian toddlers and the child-rearing
attitudes of their mothers. They concluded that Chinese toddlers
were significantly more inhibited than Canadian toddlers. They found
that inhibition was positively associated with Chinese mother's
warm and accepting attitudes but negatively associated with the
mother's acceptance in Canada suggesting different adaptational
meanings of behaviour inhibition across the two cultures.
Odebiyi (1985) reported on the different child-rearing practices
among educated and non-educated nursing mothers in Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
Following four years of fieldwork, Riesman (1983) differentiates
between child-rearing practices and parental practices in examining
character formation between two communities (the Fulbe of the Upper
Volta, and their ex-slaves the Riimaaybe). Child-rearing practices
were seen to be identical in both communities and not related to
the development of different personality types.
Studies reviewed for other cultures include: Malay (Banks, 1989),
Turkish (Bengi-Arslan et al, 1997), Pakistani (Burton-Jeangros,
1995), African (Campinha-Bacote, 1991; Chase-Lansdale et al, 1994;
Skuy et al, 1997; Wakschlag et al, 1996; Wolfe & Ikeogu, 1996),
Chinese (Chao, 1983,1994), Mexican (Corral-Verdugo et al, 1995;
Fox & Solis-Camara, 1997), Haitian/Cuban (DeSantis & Thomas,
1994), Guayanese (DeYoung & Zigler, 1994), Egyptian (Wachs et
al, 1993), Greek (Diareme et al, 1997), British (Field & Pawlby,
1980), Israeli (Goshen-Gottstein, 1980; Oppenheim, 1998), Sudan
(Grotberg et al, 1987), Puerto Rican (Harwood, 1992; 1996), Hispanic
(Lequerica & Hermosa, 1995; Schachter et al, 1989), Inuit (MacDonald-Clark
& Boffman, 1995), N.American Aboriginal (Phillips & Lobar,
1990; Seideman et al, 1994 ), Palestinian (Merizian, 1991), Indian
(Sharma & LeVine, 1998), and more general cultural factors (Choi,
1986; Fernand et al, 1989; Levinson et al, 1984; McKenna et al,
1993; Nihira et al, 1994; Nicci, 1997; Pfeiffer & Aylward, 1990;
Reyes et al, 1991; Roe & Drivas, 1993; Roll, 1998; Shand, 1981;
Van Der Zwaard, 1992; Wasserman et al., 1990; Sameroff et al, 1982;
The dilemmas with this literature are mentioned in several studies:
1) There is a lack of validation of a core set of measurement tools
and methods. Drawing inferences from the wide variety of within
cultures and cross-cultural studies of parenting practices, attitudes
or beliefs, and the influence on attachment relationships is therefore
2) The majority of measures have been developed for Euro-American
parent and child studies and may or may not be valid for other cultural
groups (Judith & Solomon, 1999; De Wolff & van IJzendoorn,
1997; Nugent, Lester, & Brazelton, 1991; Akaragian & Dewa,
1992; Hayes, 1996; Stevenson-Hinde, 1998).
Groups in Canada
The largest ethno-cultural groups in Canada, based on the 1996 Canadian
population census , are as follows:
a) The 'pre-dominant' Canadian cultural group - i.e. the mix of
early immigrant Western European/British cultures which form the
population majority, now primarily English and French-speaking;
b) The primary ethno-cultural groups - Chinese, South Asian 
and Blacks  represent 60% of the national 'visible minority'
population of 3.2 million persons;
c) The First Nations population - approximately 1 million families
of Aboriginal ancestry live in Canada;
d) Other ethno-cultural groups, each representing at least two to
eight percent of the 'visible minority' population of just under
1 million, are Arab/West Asian , Filipino, Latin American, Southeast
Asian , Japanese, and Korean.
 The 1996 census
asked respondents to write in their ethnic (ancestral) origins, and
provided 24 examples that included Canada. 5.3 million (19% of the
population) reported Canadian only and 3.5 million persons (12%) reported
Canadian and other origins. Individuals identified themselves as from
"visible minority" groups if they were, as the Census form
stated, "persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian
in race or non-white in color". The Census found that these visible
minority groups represented 11.2% of the total population in Canada.One-in-five
of the visible minority population identified by the census are recent
immigrants (since 1991), and approximately one-in-three are Canadian-born,
with the proportion varying widely for different groups (reflecting
historical immigration patterns). A cross-cultural framework, therefore,
needs to incorporate intergenerational implications as well.
 South Asian countries are identified in the Census as India, Pakistan,
Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, Nepal and the Himalayan
 This is the term used in the 1996 Census in which people were
asked to self identify as a member of a visible minority group within
 West Asian countries are identified as Kurdistan, Israel, Turkey,
Armenia and Azerbaijan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Arabian
Peninsula, Iraq, and Iran.
 Southeast Asian countries are identified as (China) Burma, Vietnam,
Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines,
Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Patterns of Parenting
values are the core conceptions of what is desirable within the
individual and the larger society of a given group of peoples (Gollnick
& Chinn, 1990); they are a major factor in contributing to a
sense of identity and characteristic ways of perceiving, thinking,
feeling, and behaving. An often-cited cultural value for North Americans,
for example, is the importance of individualism, while in Africa,
Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific, the collective is more important
than the individual (Triandis, Brislin, & Hui, 1988).
Without mentioning acculturation, the dynamic nature of any culture
cannot be fully appreciated.
Acculturation "involves the conflict-ridden, decision-making
process in which an immigrant trades off his or her indigenous attitudes,
values, and behaviours for those of the host group, until he or
she achieves a mixture of old and new that is deemed optimal"
(Salgado de Snyder, 1987). Exposure to school or employment for
some members of the family may result in uneven acculturation levels
among other family members and create transitional stress. Uncovering
how immigration and acculturation influence attachment is a key
challenge for the Women's Health Centre.
This review of the literature on child-parent/caregiver attachment
across cultures shows that there is an extensive literature on attachment
in general and many studies that relate to different cultures and
ethno-cultural groups. However, it is not clear whether the results
of any of these studies are generalizable to a Canadian context.
There are two fundamental methodological dilemmas or problems evident
in the literature on attachment:
1) There is a lack of validation of a core set of measurement tools
and methods and much of the research has been conducted in artificial
settings. Making inferences from the wide variety of within cultures
and cross-cultural studies of parenting practices, attitudes or
beliefs, and the influence on attachment relationships is, therefore,
2) As many studies note, the majority of measures have been developed
for Euro-American parent and child studies and may or may not be
valid for other cultural groups (Judith & Solomon, 1999; De
Wolff & van IJzendoorn, 1997; Nugent, Lester, & Brazelton,
1991; Akaragian & Dewa, 1992; Hayes, 1996; Stevenson-Hinde,
For all areas of research and theory development, it is important
to recognize that what is, and what is not, measured, observed and
studied is dependent upon the 'lens' through which an individual,
and/or a discipline sees the world, and their particular area of
study. The same principle applies to those who interpret or review
the collective body of information generated by any set of studies.
Politics, philosophy, gender, societal and cultural norms can all
influence researchers and the research process in obvious and subtle
ways. Whether funding is available for certain types of research
is also a key factor. So too is the level of cultural competence
associated with any research or review in cross-cultural fields
The majority of work on attachment theory, measurement development,
and practice has been done through the cultural lens of researchers
from the United States or Europe and through the disciplinary lens
of Psychiatry, Psychology and Paediatrics. It is impossible to assess
the varying effects of these different lenses, particularly in research
done with other cultures. While acknowledging the value of the work
that has been done in other cultures than North America, it is,
nonetheless, important to be cautious about its application.
Major gaps are evident in the literature. There is, for example,
limited discussion in the literature relevant to this review about
the potential influence on attachment of the gender of children,
the education and social status/income of parents, the status of
women in a society, families with multiple caregivers, families
with more than one infant/small child, the locale, and the changing
definition of the family. The concern in the literature about using
measurement instruments developed from observations on Euro-American
infants and families with infants and families from other cultures
is unresolved. However, it is only in the last ten years that attachment
theory has become generally accepted, and attempts are now being
made to integrate this learning into a broader understanding of
child development and family systems.
This literature review provides an understanding of the primacy
of attachment relationships and the essential value of attachment
in healthy child development. To understand more fully the ways
in which various social and cultural influences effect parenting
practices, which in turn influence the quality of the attachment
relationship, is of critical importance to the future well-being
of all families and communities in Canada. But, clearly much research
remains to be done.
comments and reflections
on the literature from the researchers
In the literature reviewed for this paper on the theory and application
of attachment and the attachment-related influence of variations
in care-giving practices in different cultures, there was general
agreement that secure attachment between a mother and infant is
the ideal first relationship. This relationship develops in the
first months and years. Feeling secure (feeling loved) and having
a safe base to explore from, and return to, are ongoing needs
met by the parent/care-giver relationship within all cultures
as a child progresses through the early formative years.
One implication of this finding is that in order to facilitate
secure attachment, the infant/ child must be able to build
on this primary relationship for successful adaptation to living
in Canada. Primary relationships exist within social networks
but it is likely that those networks that existed in the immigrant
parents' childhood are fragmentary or non-existent in Canada.
The social protection that they were entitled to in their culture
of origin then needs to be recreated in a different way in their
new country. Many immigrant families re-create this social support
by utilizing available formal and informal support systems to
replace their absent families and social networks.
The literature suggests that beliefs and attitudes towards parenting
change little, but that overt parenting practices begin to conform
to the accepted norms of the mainstream culture.
In Canada, long- time residents and recent immigrants can choose
to adopt the values of the dominant or mainstream culture partially
or fully. They also require the opportunity to practice and share
intuitive parenting skills or learned parenting skills of the
countries/cultures of their origin. However, cultural values,
and variations in family and parenting practices between and within
cultural groups, have the potential to influence attachment in
positive or negative ways.
Besides the fundamental methodological problems and the major
gaps in the literature, the existing literature on attachment
leaves us with many other unanswered technical questions. For
example, there is no straightforward answer to questions such
as: Does the secure attachment classification capture 'felt security'?
Secure attachment relationships are not necessarily 'secure' from
day one throughout childhood. What is a healthy balance? What
are the critical periods, and are they different between cultures
With many new immigrants from diverse cultures entering Canada
annually, an infant's parenting has important future implications
for the well-being of all individuals, communities and the whole
Considerations for the future include:
1) Given that Canadians value equality of opportunity for all,
all children in Canada need to be able to function optimally in
physical, psychological and cognitive domains
2) There may be much to be learned from adaptive secure dyads
who have brought to Canada healthy ways of interacting with their
infant that are not yet popularized in North American society.
3) Learned ways may not be adaptive to a new cultural milieu or
4) Today's infants are the decision-makers of our future society.
There is considerable speculation and concern in the literature
about the number of 'avoidant' citizens in North America. Preventing
rather than adopting some patterns of mainstream attachment may,
therefore, also seem an appropriate approach.
5) Critical periods of change in the sensitivity responsiveness
and or continuity of the care-giving from an infant's primary
attachment figure (usually mother) may differ between cultural
groups. These critical periods can cause stress in an infant's
felt security. Much remains to be learned from cross-cultural
practices used to sustain an infant's sense of love and safety
during these periods.
and Backgrounds of the Writers
The two principal researchers for this paper were Dr Pratibha Reebye
and Susan Ross:
Dr. Pratibha Reebye is a psychiatrist who works with the
Infant Mental Health Clinic at BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver.
She is a consultant for the BC Ministry for Children and Families
and teaches courses on attachment at the University of British
Columbia. Dr. Reebye is of East Indian descent. She spent her early
years in India and Mauritius and grew up in Canada. With her three-generation
household, and siblings living in other countries around the world,
she has experienced first hand many of the cross-cultural issues
that are background to this paper.
Susan Ross is a fourth generation Canadian of British ancestry
with western pioneer roots, and a background in nutrition, healthcare
Kathleen Jamieson, SPARC Program Director, who edited this
review, came to Canada as an adult, having lived and worked in several
other countries. She has a background in sociology, anthropology
and social policy research. All three of the researchers are mothers
Jason M. Clark, a graduate student in Psychology and Social
Work, provided technical and editing assistance.