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Attachment theory

Publish date: 21/08/2015

Tags: children



Attachment theory was initially researched by John Bowlby. The theory explores the attachment between a child and their significant caregiver.

It suggests that emotions and a sense of self can be the foundation for:

  • Resilience
  • Self-esteem
  • Engagement
  • Expectations in relationships and
  • Emotional and cognitive development

An important factor in the theory is the positive response from the primary caregiver to emotions such as fear and uncertainty from the child.

There are considered to be three main attachment styles which are established between 12 and 18 months old. The attachments and how the child experiences separation and loss of that relationship are shown below.

Secure attachment

Children are vulnerable for some time and need the protection of carers. A secure attachment exists where the primary caregiver is emotionally available and responsive to a child’s needs. The child may be upset if their caregiver leaves and happy when they return but is generally at ease and knows that their needs will be met. This makes them feel safe to interact with the world.

Avoidant attachment

When a child finds their primary care giver to be emotionally unavailable, unresponsive and rejecting, the opposite happens. Because they feel unsafe, they may be clingy and demanding if their caregiver leaves and either remains so on their return or becomes aggressive. The child may avoid approaching the carer for help as they fear rejection. This may make them more self-reliant but can also find it hard to trust others and ask for help.

Ambivalent attachment

Lack of consistency creates its own set of problems. When a primary care giver is inconsistent in responding to their child’s needs; they may be present but distracted. The child is likely to be upset when their caregiver leaves the room and clingy and demanding on their return but not reassured. The outcome, according to Bowlby, is a child who’s clingy and demanding of attention but can be wary of strangers.

Useful links - attachment - the forms of attachment - attachment

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