What Is Attachment?

The word attachment is frequently used by mental health, child development and child protection workers but it has slightly different meanings in these different contexts.

The first thing to know is that we create many kinds of “bonds.” A bond is a connection between one person and another. In the field of infant development, attachment refers to a special bond characterised by the unique qualities of the bond that forms in maternal-infant or primary caregiver-infant relationships.

The attachment bond has several key elements:

(1) an attachment bond is an enduring emotional relationship with a specific person;

(2) the relationship brings safety, comfort, soothing and pleasure;

(3) loss or threat of loss of the person evokes intense distress.

As we study the nature of these special relationships, we are finding out about how important they can be for the future development of the child. Indeed, many researchers and clinicians feel that the maternal child attachment provides the working framework for all subsequent relationships that the child will develop. A solid and healthy attachment with a primary caregiver appears to be associated with a high probability of healthy relationships with others while poor attachment with the mother or primary caregiver appears to be associated with a host of emotional and behavioral problems later in life. A child, for example, may have an "insecure"attachment or "secure" attachment.

There are four attachment styles. The following characteristics/behaviours are associated with each attachment style;

Secure: A child with a scure attachment is likely to developmentally be on track (or there are medical/genetic reasons why not). They can manage daily stresses with little distress. Can manage change. They have friends. Have appropriately loving home relationships. Will be upset with non-typical separation from their primary carer, and show a warm greeting upon return. Will seek appropriate physical touch and comfort.

Insecure Avoidant: A child with an insecure avoidant attachment's development may be delayed. This child likes routine and structure and does not manage change well. They can be overly controlling. They can be loving but also avoids this interaction. They can appear withdrawn. They may display self-soothing behaviour such as rocking or skin picking when distressed. They show little distress upon separation from their primary care giver. They may have friends but avoid becoming too close to them.

Insecure Ambivalent: A child with an insecure ambivalent attachment's development may be delayed. this child likes routine and structure and does not manage change well. This child can be eager to please. They always wants to be with the primary care giver or recieving attention from others. They can become very distressed upon separation from their primary carer. Tantrums and attention seeking behaviours are likely. This child can be sociable but falling out with friends is likely.

Disorganised: A child with a disorganised attachment has a high likelihood of developmental delay. They can be very unpredictable; what conforts them one day will not comfort them the next day. Self-soothing behaviours such as rocking are likely especially in ounger children. These children sometimes responds well to routine and structure, but sometimes cannot manage the consistency of it. They can appear as if in their own world. Their concentration is poor. They won’t consistently seek comfort when distressed. Tantrums and aggressive outbursts are likely. They can be highly controlling of adults.

Securely attached children feel a consistent, responsive, and supportive relation to their primary carers even during times of significant stress. Insecurely attached children feel inconsistent, punishing, unresponsive emotions and feel threatened during times of stress. It is unsurprising that the three insecure attachment styles; avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganised, are most often seen in children who have suffered early life neglect, trauma or instability as this will have impaired bonding experiences. It is important to note that previously secure attachments can change suddenly following abuse and neglect.

Find out more about attachment in subsequent posts...