What is Attachment?
Attachment is an emotional connection that forms between the child and the caregiver, and it is the mechanism by which the helpless child meets the basic needs. It then becomes an engine for the social, emotional and cognitive development that follows. Attachment provides the primary coping mechanism for the child; it sets up a mental image of the caregiver in the memory of the infant, one that can be summoned as a soothing mental presence in stressful times. Attachment also helps the child to be independent and to discover the world around them without caregiver.
What is the Attachment Theory?
The theory of attachment in psychology originates from the pioneering work of John Bowlby (1958). In the 1930s, John Bowlby practiced as a psychiatrist at the Child Guidance Clinic in London, where he treated many mentally troubled children. The experience at the clinic prompted Bowlby to understand the significance of the children’s connection with their mother in relation to the physical, emotional and cognitive development. Specifically, it formed his faith between early child separation with the mother and later maladjustment, and led Bowlby to articulate his theory of attachment.
According to Bowlby, attachment is a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” Bowlby (1958) suggested that attachment could be interpreted in an evolutionary way in that the caregiver ensures protection and comfort for the child. Attachment is adaptive since it increases the probability of survival of the infant.
Some theories suggested that caregivers feed the child and that leads to the formation of attachments but Bowlby discovered that when they were separated from their primary caregivers, feeding did not alleviate the discomfort encountered by children. Instead, he noted that the attachment with the caregivers was marked by consistent patterns of action and motivation. In order to gain both comfort and nourishment, children tend to seek closeness from their caregivers mainly when frightened.
What are the Stages of Attachment?
Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson (1964) studied whether attachment evolves through a sequence of steps, by observing 60 infants at periodic intervals of one month for the first 18 months of life. They found that a baby’s attachment develops in the following sequence-
Asocial (0-6 weeks):
young babies are asocial and that all kinds of stimuli, both social and non-social, cause favorable reactions, such as a smile. Infants do not have any special connection to a single caregiver. The signs of the infant, such as crying and yelling, instinctively draw the attention of the caregiver, and the positive reactions of the child allow the caregiver to stay close to them.
Indiscriminate Attachments (6 weeks- 7 months):
Infants enjoy being surrounded by human company, and most of them react to any caregiver in a similar manner. They get upset when any person avoids communicating with them. By 3 months of age, babies smile more at familiar faces and can be quickly comforted by a frequent caregiver. They begin to demonstrate their preferences for primary and secondary caregivers. Children have the trust that the caregiver will respond to their needs. Babies get taken care of by various people and yet they tend to differentiate between known and unknown individuals, and react more positively to the primary caregiver.
Specific attachment (7-9 months):
A special preference for a single caregiver develops. The child looks to specific people for comfort, warmth and protection. They are fearful of strangers (stranger anxiety) and are uncomfortable when removed away from a particular caregiver. (separation anxiety). By one year of age, some babies exhibit anxieties of stranger fear and separation far more often and strongly than others, but they are taken as proof that the infant has developed a bond.
Multiple Attachment (10 months and above):
By ten months of age, babies begin to develop multiple attachments including attachments to parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, and neighbors. The infant becomes more autonomous and forms a variety of attachments. The numerous attachments developed by most babies differ in intensity and value to the child. Attachments are also arranged in a hierarchy where the child may have developed three attachments, but one may be greater than the other two, and one may be of the least importance.
What are the Styles of Attachment?
Ainsworth and colleagues observed how relaxed each infant felt physically further away from its mother in an unknown situation, how each child communicated with the outsider, and how each child welcomed the mother when she returned. They gave three styles of attachment-
When children can rely on their caregivers, exhibit sadness when they are apart and joy when they are reunited, they are said to have formed secure attachments. While the child might be frustrated, they are reassured that the caregiver is coming back. When afraid children with secure attachment are comfortable in seeking comfort from caregivers. These children are capable to interact well and safely form connections with others, while at the same time being able to function freely as required. Secure attachment is marked by trust, an adaptive reaction to abandonment, and the conviction that one is deserving of affection.
This type of attachment is characterized by parents or caregivers who are not responsive to the primary needs of their child. They experience discomfort when the parent leaves and are unable to depend on the caregivers for satisfying their needs. As the child grows, they are worried while developing attachments that others will not reciprocate appropriate their desire for intimacy.
Children with this form of attachment tend to avoid their parents or caregivers. They do not show any signs of distress when the caregiver leaves. These children are equally comfortable with a caregiver and a stranger. The avoidant attachment may be a result of neglect or abuse from the caregivers which may lead to the child being avoidant or independent from forming attachments.
One more style of attachment discovered by Main and Solomon (1986)-
These children exhibit a confounding combination of behavior, including clearly inconsistent actions. It seems disoriented and confusing and they exhibit various behavior that lack clearly recognizable motives or intentions. They could be ignoring or rejecting the parent. There is an absence of a particular attachment which is possibly related to erratic caregiver behavior. In such situations, parents can serve as a source of security as well as discomfort, contributing to disorganized actions of the child.
The attachments that are formed during the early stages are crucial. They have an impact on how individuals form bonds in future with their peers, partners and society. Parents need to provide sufficient amount of nourishment and security to let children know the importance of their presence as well as not make the children too dependable. The child needs to have an attachment with the caregivers which is filled with trust and warmth.
“Your children need your presence more than your presents.”
– Jesse Jackson
McLeod, S. A. (2017, February 05). Attachment theory. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/attachment.html