Bonding is the emotional attachment and commitment a child makes to social relationships in the family, peer group, school, community, or culture. Child development studies frequently describe bonding and attachment processes as internal working models for how a child forms social connections with others (Ainsworth, et al. 1978; Bowlby, 1982, 1979, 1973; Mahler et al., 1975). The interactions between a child and a child's caregivers build the foundation for bonding which is key to the development of the child's capacity for motivated behavior. Positive bonding with an adult is crucial to the development of a capacity for adaptive responses to change, and growth into a healthy and functional adult. Good bonding establishes the child's trust in others and in self. Inadequate bonding establishes patterns of insecurity and self-doubt. Very poor bonding establishes a fundamental sense of mistrust in self and others, creating an emotional emptiness that the child may try to fill in other ways, possibly through drugs, impulsive acts, antisocial peer relations, or other problem behaviors (Braucht, Kirby & Berry, 1978; Brook, Brook, Gordon, Whiteman & Cohen, 1990; Brook, Lukoff & Whiteman, 1980; Elliott et al., 1985; Kandel, Kessler & Margulies, 1978).
The importance of bonding reaches far beyond the family. How a child establishes early bonds to caregivers will directly affect the manner in which the child later bonds to peers, school, the community, and culture(s). The quality of a child's bonds to these other domains are essential aspects of positive development into a healthy adult (Brophy, 1988; Brophy & Good, 1986; Dolan, Kellam & Brown, 1989; Hawkins, Catalano & Miller, 1992). Strategies to promote positive bonding combined with the development of skills have proven to be an effective intervention for adolescents at risk for antisocial behavior (Dryfoos, 1990; Caplan, Weissberg, Grober, Sivo, Grady & Jacoby, 1992).
Operational Definition. For this review, a program was classified as promoting bonding if one or more of its components focused on developing the child's relationship with a healthy adult, positive peers, school, community, or culture.