The quality of the parent-child relationship launches a series of developmental experiences that become visible at the various stages of development in childhood and adolescence. Boys and girls may have different developmental experiences, and as a result acquire skills differently through their particular interactions. As children grow, their maturation becomes focused. Between ages 6 and 12, children generate a strong sense of self, develop defense mechanisms against stress, and explore their growing intellectual capacities. In the absence of a strong bond, restrictions occur in both play and attentive behavior. The inability to express the self gets transferred to social situations and often leads to social isolation, antisocial behavior, or unrealistic expectations of others.
During the changes of adolescence, ages 13 to 21, identity formation is enhanced by identification with others. The range of emotionality and confusion about self and others is expressed through the quality of interactions with others. Transitions occur dramatically and often in the multiple spheres of development; the maturation of self shows distinct growth in biological, intellectual, moral, emotional, sexual, social, and spiritual spheres. The adolescent feels engaged with many but often committed to none. Emotionally deprived teenage girls may act out their fantasies of having a baby and become pregnant. They vicariously identify with the baby's need for love and nurturance. Many often reinvolve their own mothers in caring for their babies, in an effort to receive the care from their own mother that they missed in childhood.
Studies indicate that most infants form attachments to both parents at about the same time, but that by the second year of life, boys, in fact, prefer to interact with their fathers. They begin to seek out and imitate the father's activities and behaviors as expressing identification. Findings show that mothers and fathers generally represent different types of experiences for infants, suggestive of the fact that both parents have simultaneously independent and interrelated influences on infant development.
Research about attachment formation has made clear that relationships with childhood caretakers influence religious behavior and our relationship with God. Those with secure attachments to God, defining the relationship as comfortable and providing happiness and satisfaction, experience greater life satisfaction, less anxiety, depression, and physical illness than those with anxious attachments to God that are characterized as experiencing God as inconsistent or unresponsive to needs. Those with anxious attachment to God or avoidant relationships tend to display emotion-based religiosity, marked by relatively sudden religious change, compensating for insecure relationships by becoming more religious or finding a new relationship with God. Avoidant attachment sufferers find God impersonal, distant, and having little intent in the person.
In secure attachment, God provides a secure base through a relationship supporting confidence and strength to face the challenges of daily life, in addition to being a counsel, offering care at times of crisis. While we do not know the processes by which attachments influence health, inevitably the reduced perception that resources outweigh pressures appears as an advantage. When parents acknowledge their child's importance and abilities, they in turn recognize the child's "true self," and those intrinsic gifts that cultivate dignity, identity, and direction. By introducing children to their own innate qualities of the "true self" (spontaneity, reasoning, free will, creativity, spirituality, discernment, and love) and guiding them as they deepen their critical connections (their evolving relationships with self, others, and God), a child becomes equipped with resources necessary for healthy attachment in later life. Promoting early attachment helps transition children positively into mature adults who are capable of engaging in caring and supportive relationships. Strong attachment also provides solid foundations upon which children can build healthy spiritual relationships with God. Nurturing spirituality through prayer and participating in a spiritual community are useful ways for establishing links as well as transitioning between parental bonds and spiritual bonds, these links of attachment are important for healthy relationships with self, others, and God.