Is there an age where skin-to-skin contact and other interactions lose some of their importance for early development?
In certain countries, skin-to-skin contact is standard care for babies, and the babies will determine when they have had enough because theywill start to have an interest in other things.
Much has been made of children from orphanages, who might have missed out on a lot of the personalized physical and emotional engagement during their infancy. Does this really have long-term effects?
There's been some interesting work done with children who have been adopted from Romania, where there wasn't a lot of individual attention. In Romania, at least initially after the country opened up [in 1989], there were few adults to many children, and they were also separated by age, so the children weren't interacting with one another as much. After they were adopted into Canadian homes, the longer they had been in the orphanage, the more likely they were to have longer-term deficits. But even if they had been in orphanages for a long time, going into a family environment was beneficial. Most of the kids ended up being okay. Some took longer than others to be okay, and some had long-term deficits.
What are some of the long-term deficits that are common in some of these children?
There are some cognitive deficits initially, and there are some emotional differences. Some have found that children from Romania have indiscriminant friendliness—they're more likely to go off with strangers. It's almost as if they think "all adults are wonderful," and they don't have the sense "there are particular adults that are mine."
What can or should be done for children who are coming from an environment where they might not have gotten much physical touching or emotional engagement?
The main thing would be to give them what they didn't get.
What else should we know about the role of infant engagement in development?
It's not that anything is cut in stone. I don't want to give the impression that if babies don't get this they're marked for life. This early understanding of self and early understanding of other is developed through interaction. It teaches babies basic lessons that they have some agency in the world, so that allows them to explore the world and feel like they can affect their environment as opposed to just being helpless to whatever happens to them. We're basically a social species, and we learn those things through interacting with others.