The British psychoanalyst John Bowlby identified a healthy attachment to parents as the crucial ingredient in a child’s well-being.
When parents act with empathy and are responsive to a child’s needs, they build a basic sense of security.
Every child, Bowlby argues, needs a preponderance of I-You connections in childhood to thrive throughout life. Well-attuned parents offer a child a “secure base,” people they can count on when they are upset and need attention, love, and comfort.
Virtually from birth, babies are not mere passive lumps but active communicators seeking their own intensely urgent goals. The two-way emotional message system between a baby and her caretaker represents her lifeline, the route through which passes all the traffic to get her basic needs fulfilled. Babies need be tiny masters at managing their caretakers through an elaborate, built-in system of eyes contacted and avoided, smiles, and cries; lacking that social intercom, babies can remain miserable or even die from neglect.