Academic journal article Childhood Education

How Do I Love Thee: Enhancing Intimacy in Children

Academic journal article Childhood Education

How Do I Love Thee: Enhancing Intimacy in Children

Article excerpt

The extent to which children's early experiences, especially parent-child relationships, affect intimacy development is not usually apparent until later in life. Families, teachers and society must all work to assure children that they are loved and guide them to behavior that forges healthy friendships. This article encourages adults to recognize and nurture the development of characteristics in children that can lead to intimacy, and to become aware of factors that induce social isolation and loneliness.

Review of Literature

Loneliness and social isolation have prolonged effects upon individuals, beginning at an early age. Several researchers have documented children's feelings of loneliness resulting from rejection or social isolation (Asher, Parkhurst, Hymel & Williams, 1990; Cassidy & Asher, 1992; Weiss, 1973). Infants need to be held, stroked, talked to and nurtured in many ways if they are to develop in a healthy manner.

Some children, as early as kindergarten and 1st grade, have characterized themselves as feeling alone and sad. These children also identified finding a friend as a solution (Cassidy & Asher, 1992). Adults must recognize the importance of both parental and peer relationships. Loneliness in childhood may lead to loneliness during adulthood (Bullock, 1993).

Closeness with others, including friends and family, is a predictor of healthy physical and mental functioning. A failure to form strong emotional bonds in early childhood can be the basis for emotional distress and personality disturbances in adulthood (Bowlby, 1977). Those lacking close relationships with parents are more likely to experience mental illness, heart disease and hypertension (Thomas & Duszynski, 1974).

Characteristics and Development of Intimacy

Intimacy is characterized by affection, satisfaction, enjoyment, openness, respect and feelings of importance in relationships (LeCroy, 1988). Intimacy also means having a confidante or friend (Woolf, 1976), feeling close to another person (Hatfield, 1984; Hendrick & Hendrick, 1983), sharing warmth, devotion and self-disclosure (Rubenstein & Shaver, 1982), experiencing emotional attachment (Brehem, 1985; Hendrick & Hendrick, 1983) and enjoying close physical, mental and social associations (Odem, 1974).

Trust and a capacity for intimacy are necessary for functioning optimally in intimate relationships (Erikson, 1963). One also needs to develop autonomy, initiative and industry (Gold & Yanof, 1985). Resolving the intimacy versus isolation crisis builds a capacity for intimacy (Prager, 1986).

Researchers have documented links between childhood attachments and later social competencies (Allen, 1989). Bowlby (1969) emphasized the mother-infant attachment and its consequences on subsequent child development. Certain attributes of intimacy, however, are not characteristic of the young child's close relationships. Rather, they represent a mature form of intimacy gradually achieved during the attachment process.

Many researchers have explored parental and peer relationships and the development of intimacy. The authors review resources under the headings of "young children," "adolescents" and "adults," offering the reader insight into the progressive effects of early experiences upon children.

Young Children. The authors identify four important dimensions of maternal behavior during a child's first year: sensitive--insensitive, accepting--rejecting, cooperative--interfering, accessible--ignoring (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978). Mothers later classified as securely attached were more attuned to their infants' messages, were more cheerful and accepting of the maternal role and responded positively to their children's needs and demands.

One study conducted home observations of mother-infant interactions and scored mothers' behaviors according to responsiveness, expression of positive feelings and amount of social stimulation given to the child (Clarke-Stewart, 1973). …

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