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Caregiver–child proximity as a dimension of early experience
Development and Psychopathology  (IF4.151),  Pub Date : 2022-01-25, DOI: 10.1017/s0954579421001644
Whitney Barnett, Clare L. Hansen, Lauren G. Bailes, Kathryn L. Humphreys

Human infancy and early childhood is both a time of heightened brain plasticity and responsivity to the environment as well as a developmental period of dependency on caregivers for survival, nurturance, and stimulation. Across primate species and human evolutionary history, close contact between infants and caregivers is species-expected. As children develop, caregiver–child proximity patterns change as children become more autonomous. In addition to developmental changes, there is variation in caregiver–child proximity across cultures and families, with potential implications for child functioning. We propose that caregiver–child proximity is an important dimension for understanding early environments, given that interactions between children and their caregivers are a primary source of experience-dependent learning. We review approaches for operationalizing this construct (e.g., touch, physical distance) and highlight studies that illustrate how caregiver–child proximity can be measured. Drawing on the concepts proposed in dimensional models of adversity, we consider how caregiver–child proximity may contribute to our understanding of children’s early experiences. Finally, we discuss future directions in caregiver–child proximity research with the goal of understanding the link between early experiences and child adaptive and maladaptive functioning.