Interview - Dr Margot Sunderland


The child psychologist and author has launched Communication Skills and Attachment Play, a DVD aimed at parents and practitioners

Dr Margot Sunderland
Dr Margot Sunderland

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO FOCUS YOUR RESEARCH ON ATTACHMENT IN THE EARLY YEARS?

Time constraints, financial worries, workplace stress and the allure of technology can all easily infringe on the vital one-to-one time between parent and infant, but the latest evidence-based research shows us that the importance of secure attachment cannot be underestimated. Where that doesn’t happen at home, it can happen at nursery between an emotionally available adult and infant.

Not only is it lovely in a relational sense to boost the connection between adult and child, it’s actually essential for the development of core social and emotional skills. Consistently positive connections between adults and children strengthen the infant’s immune system and promote emotional well-being.

Attachment play-based games provide the perfect conditions for genuine, quality connection to take place between adult and infant. Unfortunately, many parents and early years practitioners either don’t have the skillset to engage creatively in these highly beneficial games, or they lack the confidence needed.

I wanted to boost people’s confidence as well as offer a rich repertoire of attachment play games that are easy to replicate at home or in the nursery. Infants who take part often ‘come alive’ in front of parents’ or carers’ eyes, and there is a wealth of evidence that shows this kind of social play has crucial implications for children’s long-term mental health.

HOW DOES ATTACHMENT PLAY CONTRIBUTE TO DEVELOPMENT?

There is an enduring belief that attachment play is just something nice, playful and fun. While it is indeed all of those things (and more!), it’s actually an integral part of supporting secure attachment between adult and infant, as well as fostering lifelong relationship skills.

It also has a major positive impact on brain development, with research showing that secure attachment triggers optimal levels of anti-anxiety and anti-aggression chemicals, namely opioids and oxytocin, in the brain. The more frequently these neurochemicals are optimally activated, the more the brain habituates to them.

In other words, as the psychiatrist Bruce Perry says, ‘Emotional states become personality traits’; so we should cultivate these mentally healthy conditions wherever possible. Attachment play also has long-term cognitive benefits as it promotes new brain cell growth – neurogenesis – in the brain’s hippocampus, which is a key memory system.

WHAT ARE THE KEY MESSAGES FOR EARLY YEARS PRACTITIONERS IN YOUR DVD?

It’s vitally important that early years practitioners are aware of the huge role attachment play can have in terms of long-term mental and physical health of children.

Furthermore, if things have gone awry in the parent-infant relationship – due to mental health problems or postnatal depression – then a nursery can act as a space for healing.

When children see that adults are truly engaged and connected with them, the underlying psychological messages they receive are immensely comforting and the foundations for secure attachment are established.

  • 'Communication Skills and Attachment Play: The First Five Years' is available for £16.99.

Nursery World Print & Website

  • Latest print issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Free monthly activity poster
  • Themed supplements

From £119 per year

Subscribe

Nursery World Digital Membership

  • Latest digital issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Themed supplements

From £119 per year

Subscribe

© MA Education 2020. Published by MA Education Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 04002826. MA Education is part of the Mark Allen Group. – All Rights Reserved