Attachment Theory
What every parent should know about it

Secure attachment

Attachment theory may sound very scientific and boring to many parents. But in fact, it is quite interesting, because it tells us that forming a strong relationship with your child is essential for their healthy development

Every mother and father should study this theory, at least briefly, to understand the importance of secure attachment in their baby's life.

Therefore, this theory is one of the most popular above all, related to parenting and, of course, to Attachment Parenting.

What is Attachment theory?

Basically, it explains about parent-child relationship and how it influences child's development. It is as simple as it gets: your baby needs to develop a relationship with you in order to grow healthy.

Psychiatrist John Bowlby is the founder of Attachment Theory. He believed that attachment begins at birth and has tremendous impact throughout life.

The main theme of Attachment Theory is that mothers who are available and responsive to their infant's needs establish a sense of security in their children. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to explore the surroundings.

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What is Attachment?

Attachment is a bond between you and your baby.

The moment your baby is born, he starts teaching you how to know what he needs. We, as parents, try to learn their cues and wishes so we can provide whatever care they need at any moment in their lives.

By doing that, we also teach our babies about world around them. Of course this 2-way journey doesn’t happen overnight, but it is very important for baby’s future development and life.

Read here to learn more about how to create a secure attachment bond with your child.

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Attachment patterns

Psychologist Mary Ainsworth continued on John Bowlby’s work by revealing  stunning “strange situation” study, which later resulted 4 Attachment patterns (styles).

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Attachment Styles

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1. Secure Attachment.

  • These kids are able to separate from the parent (but they are very upset) and they are happy when parent comes back. They seek comfort (when scared) from the parent.
  • Parents of securely attached children react quickly to their children's needs and are generally more responsive to their children than the parents of insecurely attached children. 
  • Studies have shown that securely attached children are more empathetic during later stages of childhood.
  • These children are also described as less disruptive, less aggressive, and more mature than children with ambivalent or avoidant attachment styles.

2. Ambivalent Attachment.

  • These children are very suspicious of strangers.
  • They are very stressed when separated from a parent and do not feel safe even after reunited with a parent.
  • Sometimes, child rejects parent by aggression towards him.
  • Later in their childhood these kids might be described as clingy and over-dependent.

3. Avoidant Attachment.

  • These children avoid parents. It is especially noticeable when parent was absent for some time. 
  • Children with an avoidant attachment show no preference between a parent and a complete stranger.

4. Disorganized-insecure attachment.

  • Children with a style show a lack of clear attachment behavior.
  • Their actions and responses to parents are often a mix of behaviors, including avoidance or resistance.
  • These children are described as displaying dazed behavior, sometimes seeming either confused or apprehensive in the presence of a parent.

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The Importance of Attachment Theory

Attachment theory plays a very important role in parenting, especially Attachment Parenting.

Just imagine, that about 50-60 years ago people thought that sensitive care or even caring for your own child would harm them, turn them into spoiled, sick and nonfunctional human beings.

Thanks to Bowlby's theory we know that Secure attachment causes the parts of your baby’s brain responsible for social and emotional development, communication, and relationships to grow and develop in the best way possible. This relationship becomes the foundation of your child’s ability to connect with others in a healthy way.

Watch this informative video about the importance of Attachment in children.

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Attachment theory plays

an important role in adult relationship

The mother-child attachment bond shapes child’s brain, which influences his self-esteem, expectations of others, and ability to attract and maintain successful adult relationships.

According to the study there is a link between how couple’s deal with conflicts and their attachment patterns when they were infants.

"Attachment theory describes the dynamics of long-term relationships between humans especially as in families and life-long friends. Its most important tenet is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally, and that further relationships build on the patterns developed in the first relationships.

A person, who was securely attached to his parents when he was a baby, was better at recovering from conflict 20 years later.

It means that if a parent is better at regulating infant's negative emotions, he (child) tends to do a better job of regulating his own negative emotions during conflicts as an adult. 

It is great to feel that we, as parents, can play such an important role in shaping our children’s future successful adult relationships.  

Attachment Parenting

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What is your attachment style?

Have you ever thought why you are the way you are?

To better understand the importance of secure attachment let's look at what kind of attachment do you have.

These attachment patterns are based on the work of Kim Bartholomew.

Secure Attachment (low avoidance, low anxiety)

  • You are positive to others and yourself.
  • Most days you can say you are happy in your relationship, you feel loved, accepted and competent.

Preoccupied Attachment (low avoidance, high anxiety)

  • You are always too worried about what other people think about you,
  • you don't have your own opinion,
  • you NEED to be close to somebody,
  • you think other people don't value you enough,
  • you need a lot of approval,
  • You worry about your relationships a lot.

Dismissing-Avoidant (high avoidance, low anxiety)

  • You are very independent,
  • you think  you don't need relationships,
  • you hide your feelings a lot,
  • you think higher of yourself then others,
  • when rejected, you cope by being alone. 

Fearful-Avoidant (high avoidance, high anxiety)

  • You think you are dependent and helpless,
  • you are very negative,
  • you think you are not worth of anybody,
  • even though you want to have connection with somebody, you fear it,
  • avoiding intimacy and hiding feelings is very common.

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Attachment and daycare

We live in a fast paced life. We want to go to work and have a good career, but we want to be good parents as well. The big question for many new parents is should/when I go back to work...

As this is very individual issue; every family should make a decision themselves.

However, keep in mind that a child should get maximum of mother's care for the first 2 years of his life. The more you spend time with your child, the better for him.

An infant instinctively behaves in many ways to maintain close to his mother and feels most secure when he is near her.

According to Bowlby’s theory mothering is almost useless, if delayed until after two and a half to three years and, for most children, if delayed till after 12 months.                    

If the attachment figure is broken or disrupted during the critical two year period the child will suffer irreversible long-term consequences of this maternal deprivation. This risks continues until the age of 5.

John Bowlby believed that the relationship between the infant and his mother during the first five years of life was most crucial to socialization.  He believed that disruption of this primary relationship could lead to emotional difficulties and antisocial behavior.  

To support his hypothesis, he studied 44 adolescent juvenile delinquents in a child guidance clinic.

  • Only 55% of infants, whose mothers return to full-time jobs when the baby is less than six months old, are securely attached to the mother.
  • Avoidant attachments are highest among babies who start day care in the first six months of life and spend more than 20 hours per week in non-parental care.

"The most important spiritual message you can give to infants during the first year:

  • they can trust the people around them;
  • their environment is a safe,
  • their parents are close by and attentive; 
  • they are deeply loved."

                                                 -Source unknown

Please remember: It's all just theory, not everything will fit the big picture.

Parenting is not a simple thing to do, especially when parents are attacked with parenting advices and fashions and headline-grabbing “experts”, who may or may not have scientific explanation. 

Parents should grow their own unique relationship with their kids, relying on their intuition, not some new parenting fashions.

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Egeland B, Hiester M. The long-term consequences of infant day-care and mother-infant attachment. [PubMed]

Waters E, Cummings EM. A secure base from which to explore close relationships. [PubMed]

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