Understanding Attachment

Home > Understanding Attachment

What is ATTACHMENT?

Attachment can be defined as a reciprocal relationship. In parenting (or child development) it generally refers to the relationship that develops first between the infant/child and his primary caregiver (often Mother). The quality of this attachment impacts the child’s physical, emotional, psychological and cognitive development. The quality of this primary relationship shapes the child’s basic ability to trust and how positively or negatively he views the world, himself and others. The quality of this first attachment impacts all other relationships.
When an infant experiences consistent care where his/her needs are met, he/she internalizes three things:

  • I am safe
  • I am heard
  • I am valuable

With this as the foundation, a child can then develop other healthy relationships.

Psychoanalyst John Bowlby is considered the father of modern attachment theory. His definition of attachment is “the affectional tie between two people”. It begins with the bond between the infant and mother. This bond then represents how the child’s life relationships will be formed.

Bowlby stated, “The initial relationship between self and others serves as a blueprint for all future relationships.”

The importance of attachment affects more than just future healthy relationships. It also impacts a child’s ability to self-regulate. When an infant’s needs are met by a nurturing primary caregiver (mother), the infant’s emotional dysregulation is calmed. Over many repetitions of an infant feeling stress, expressing distress and receiving a nurturing response, the child is able to integrate this pattern as self-soothing during stressful times. This is important as the child matures into an adult who is able to handle disappointments, opposition and stressful situations by remaining regulated.

New research into attachment shows that there is a neurological and sensory link as well. Activities often attributed to “normal” parenting of an infant, such a rocking, bouncing, swinging, patting (burping) an infant activate the baby’s sensory system, and the positive sensory input becomes connected to the nurturing acts. Experts in neurodevelopment and sensory integration can show actual changes in the brain’s development due to this input or lack thereof. Children who have not had normal sensory input are at increased risk of not only attachment difficulties, but learning delays, social impairment and having a difficult time with change.

Stress chemicals, such as cortisol and adrenaline, can severely affect an infant’s brain development. So, the infant’s brain chemistry, specifically in utero and during the first year, can have a significant impact on the child’s ability to attach. Neurological research actually shows visible signs of difference in size and structure of healthy infant brains and those of infants who have been neglected or abused.

Links:

The Origins of Attachment Theory – a paper about John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth and their work.

What is Attachment Theory? from About Psychology website

Getting attached: Parental attachment and child development – blog from Brookings Institution, April 2015

The Importance of Early Childhood and Relationships – A 2013 Chicago’s Idea Talk – Dr. Bruce Perry (video)

resources

More on Attachment

Rehoming: Who’s to Blame?

The story By now you may have read the headlines such as “YouTuber Myka Stauffer Reveals Adoption Dissolution 2 Years After Welcoming Son Home from China.” You may have even viewed the original adoptive parents’ tearful YouTube video about the “rehoming” of their son, Huxley. This video and the story it tells create big feelings

Read More…

Rupture and Repair: Emotions, Attunement, and Attachment

“Why do some children become sad, withdrawn, insecure, or angry, whereas others become happy, curious, affectionate, and self-confident?” developmental psychologist Edward Tronick, Ph.D. asked in a 1989 paper called “Emotions and Emotional Communication in Infants.” The answer lies in large part with the quality of emotional communication, or attunement, between parent and child. We don’t get

Read More…

The story By now you may have read the headlines such as “YouTuber Myka Stauffer Reveals Adoption Dissolution 2 Years After Welcoming Son Home from China.” You may have even viewed the original adoptive parents’ tearful YouTube video about the "rehoming" of their son, Huxley. This video and the story it tells create big feelings in most viewers. This family

“Why do some children become sad, withdrawn, insecure, or angry, whereas others become happy, curious, affectionate, and self-confident?” developmental psychologist Edward Tronick, Ph.D. asked in a 1989 paper called "Emotions and Emotional Communication in Infants." The answer lies in large part with the quality of emotional communication, or attunement, between parent and child. We don’t get this important education in emotions in our

A story of hope Last week, I wrote about Janyne McConnaughey's story. This week I want to focus on my own. I could probably write a book of my own on the many insights I gained, but for the purposes of this post, in which I want to give hope to parents and kids alike, I will focus on three:

Humans are wired for connection and thrive in conditions of safety and security. When safety and security are compromised, we must do everything we can to restore a child’s felt sense of safety and security as fast as possible.

During a session with your therapist, she hands you a paper with three concentric circles drawn on it. They represent relative levels of trust in relationships. The central circle is who you trust the most. She asks you who you would put in that spot. You don’t answer. She pushes. You remain silent. Finally, she suggests your parents. You nod.

A new season is upon us. The glow from the dawn of the new year is on the wane. For some of us, it is in the company of the resolutions to which we swore our allegiance before we climbed into bed at 9:30 on December 31 – satisfied that 2019 would arrive whether or not we were there to

For years, I felt frustrated by parents and therapists suggesting I just read fill-in-the-blank  adoption books by fill-in-the-blank authors. I’d already read all of those parenting books. I’d highlighted them and made notes in the margins. But the well-worn copies on my bookshelf didn’t seem to help. Sometimes the most worthy book suggestions even seemed to hurt our family.

[N]ext week, I will speak for the second time at the Creating Trauma Sensitive Schools Conference, where my topic will be “Behavior through the Lens of Attachment, Trauma, and Dissociation.”

--by Nicole Pritchard [originally published on the author's own blog, Coffee-Colored Sofa on March 2, 2017]   This forms part of a series called “Surprised by Attachment.” This subject became a series because I’ve had way too many failures (or, “learning opportunities”) to fit them into one post. I will not make it a weekly series or anything, though, because you

Winter break always gets me to thinking, and this time it has me pondering the implications of raising a child diagnosed with RAD. I don’t know if all the things I have done to help my child will bear long-term fruit for him, but I am increasingly aware of just how much they have done for me. I have become