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Elephants Never Forget! Attachment and loss

Like most of the nation, I have been glued to watching Sir David Attenborough’s new documentary titled ‘Africa,’ which is on BBC1 at 9:00pm on Wednesdays.

I am fascinated by the filming and the profound images of nature which in part, to the human eye, seem very cruel.   David’s narrative during the documentary is balanced throughout and thought provoking.

During a recent episode they showed a herd of elephants walking through Kenya, desperately seeking food as a result of the recent drought.


The most heart pulling clip for me was when the baby elephant could no longer go on, as she was too exhausted and weak.  Her mother, rather than continue with the other herd of elephants, stayed with her and tried to encourage her; stroking and rubbing her calf – demonstrating an instinctive mother- to- baby bond.

Her mother remained with her until the calf passed away and one could clearly see the emotions in her face.  I am not ashamed to say that I was truly touched by this and had tears in my eyes.

This clearly associates to the attachment and loss theory and John Bowlby’s well-known work. Also, it highlights that it is indeed instinctive for a mother to have a special bond with her baby and stay nearby.


The clip would be a wonderful illustration to enhance students’ and practitioners’ learning on the attachment and loss theory and the impact both on mother and baby.  It would provide students with reflections and thoughts on how the separation process has an impact on the emotions of both the baby and mother.

Furthermore, it would develop understanding and empathy in supporting parents, especially mothers, when separating from their child, as quite clearly it is not a natural process for mothers to be separated from their babies.

Even though I worked in early years for many years before I had my first son and was the practitioner who reassured parents during the settling in period, I still felt that wrench to my heart on leaving him for the first time.

As practitioners, we can only still continue to listen to parents’ fears about leaving their child and be truthful about the settling in process and what to expect, using clear examples of developmental norms and explaining that it is indeed normal for them as parents to show and feel emotions, likewise their baby as well.

After all they are leaving their most precious part of them with you!

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  • psw260259


    I saw this episode – but did not follow through as you have Laura. What a fantastic way to help students and practitioners start to understand about attachment and loss.
    I may well be ‘borrowing’ your idea – not just for tutoring – but in my parent newsletter / setting website to help demonstrate the very points you make

    Thank you for sharing

  • laurachildcare

    Thanks, Penny. Please share, especially with students and practitioners. It will only help with our understanding of theory and practice. 

  • Neil

    Nice blog Laura, there’s not enough made about theories such as these in the modern world, making the link between our psychology, brain development, child development and the experiences and feelings both children and parents feel. These things tend to be overshadowed by Development Matters!!

    Best wishes


  • laurachildcare

    Thanks, Neil. I agree, hopefully with the on-going debate about the content of qualifications and CPD. The importance of brain development and as you importantly state child development, will not be over looked.

  • Marie Doherty

    Wow, Laura I love your insight and practical application on these theories. Children and Parents need on going support with this.

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