Object Permanence & Attachment Issues

By Carrie Fitch
Separation anxiety is a normal part of development.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of development.

Many parents have faced the problem of a small child who cries or screams the moment he is set down or when the parent leaves the room. In an infant, this is likely caused by the child’s lack of object permanence. A toddler or small child is probably struggling with attachment issues.

Object Permanence

Object permanence is the ability to realize that an object still exists when it is not visible. An infant who screams when her parents leave the room does so because she thinks they no longer exist.

Child psychologist Jean Piaget theorized that the human ability to think develops in four stages: sensorimotor, preoperational, operational and concrete operational. In the sensorimotor stage, infants are concerned only with exploring the world with their senses. The acquisition of object permanence signifies transition into the preoperational stage where children learn to represent things with symbols such as words and pictures.

Attachment Issues

An attachment issue occurs when a child has difficulty being separated from a parent or an abject, says Encyclopedia.com. The parent provides a sense of security, safety and comfort. Sometimes children displace this need upon an object such as a blanket, stuffed animal or pacifier. Some attachment issues are a normal part of development, but it can also become a disorder.

Separation Anxiety

This is a normal part of development during which the child does not want to be separated from his parents. This is the stage where a child will cling to the parent, cry or throw a tantrum at the prospect of separation. A child will outgrow normal separation anxiety around age three, says Encyclopedia.com. If a child does not outgrow this stage, he may have a separation anxiety disorder. A child who persistently refuses to go to school or daycare, has nightmares of separation, worries at the prospect of leaving or complains of illness are all common symptoms of a disorder.

Disorganized Attachment

Disorganized attachment occurs when a child, usually in infancy, learns that he cannot trust the world around him or his caregivers. This is the reason why quick response is important when newborns cry. It teaches her that her parents are a source of comfort. Infants who are abused and neglected commonly develop disorganized attachment. Babies with this disorder will cry for no apparent reason or when the parent enters or leaves the room.

Coping and Treatment

An infant who has not developed object permanency can easily be distracted by a toy or object. Normal separation anxiety can be countered similarly or by the caregiver speaking soothing terms, as this stage will eventually pass on its own. If it does not, the child will need psychiatric counseling. A child who has disorganized attachment will need therapy as well, but due to the causes, the family will also require treatment.