Ed Tronick, in analysing mother-infant dyads, noticed that both engage in a dance of mutual regulation (Gold, 2017). Many times during this dance, the mother and infant are not in tune. The baby might smile and the mothers looks away. This is called a ‘mismatch’. In healthy dyads this can happen as much as 70% of the time. The key is that these mismatches or disruptions need to be repaired. In these interactions, the infant develops the ability to manage disruptions while maintaining a positive sense of self. In this healthy development there is a ‘dyadic expansion of consciousness’.

The baby’s mind does not develop in isolation but in the context of relationship with another mind (Gold, 2017. Disruptions create disorganisation in the infant but these are opportunities for creating new levels of complexity and coherence, when they are repaired through interactive regulation. Self-regulation of emotion, behaviour and attention grows out of this mutual regulation between infant and caregiver. As stress is interactively regulated over small moments day-on-day the capacity for resilience is developed. The ability to regulate stress in the face of challenge is a key skill that is developed in the very first years of life.

Allan Schore writes that the self-organisation of the developing brain occurs in relationship with another brain (Gold, 2017). This relational environment can be growth-facilitating or growth inhibiting. It is this environment that imprints into the early developing right-brain either resilience or vulnerability to later developing psychiatric disorders. Borderline personality disorder, PTSD, and antisocial personality disorders are associated with early traumatic attachments that are ‘burnt into’ the right-brain. This impairs the regulatory capacities to cope effectively with stressors throughout the lifespan. Developmental science has shown the amazing plasticity and responsiveness of the developing brain to early enriched environments.

When children are presented with manageable and graded emotional challenges they become more resilient (Naravaez et al, in Narvaez et al, 2013). However relational neglect and attachment trauma results in overwhelming stress which decrease adaptive abilities.


Gold, C. M. (2017). The developmental science of early childhood: Clinical applications of infant mental health concepts from infancy through adolescence. W. W. Norton & Company.

Narváez, D. (2012). Evolution, early experience and human development: From research to practice and policy. Oxford University Press.