To feel safe and develop trust, infants and young children need a stable, caring environment. Their basic emotional and physical needs must be consistently met. For instance, when a baby cries, his or her need for a meal or a diaper must be met with a shared emotional exchange that may include eye contact, smiling and caressing.

A child whose needs are ignored or met with emotionally or physically abusive responses from caregivers comes to expect rejection or hostility. The child then becomes distrustful and learns to avoid social contact. Emotional interactions between babies and caregivers may affect development in the brain, leading to attachment problems and affecting personality and relationships throughout life.

Most children are naturally resilient, and even those who've been neglected, lived in orphanages or had multiple caregivers can develop healthy relationships and strong bonds. It's not clear why some babies and children develop reactive attachment disorder and others don't.

Jul. 06, 2011