Understanding Attachment

Attachment & Trauma Resources

EMPOWERING TRAUMA-INFORMED FAMILIES, SCHOOLS, AND COMMUNITIES

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

Serve and Return – a key concept from the Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University

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)

Looking for Attachment-Focused Therapists?  Check out ATN’s Resource Directory

 

More on Attachment

Ayurveda foot massage

Showing Up

–inspired by episode 3 of Regulated & Relational Connection Quaker writer and activist Parker Palmer often recounts a story about how, in the middle of what he calls “a deep dive into clinical depression,” his friend Bill Taber would come

pile of gray question marks with one lighted up in orangish yellow and another in blue

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

“You don’t know what you don’t know” In my parent group for those whose children think differently, a favorite phrase is “you don’t know what you don’t know.” This phrase has come to reassure me as I look back over

Theater-style masks showing insecure and secure attachment

Two Words: Attachment Insecurity

Trying to do everything right I never imagined that two words, “attachment insecurity,” could have such a distressing and at the same time life-affirming effect on a person. My son already carried a diagnosis thought of as hard-to-parent. I felt

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

Stone heart with mini-action figures climbing on it - Rupture and Repair: Emotions, Attunement, and Attachment

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

Covers of the two Brave Books - Jeannie’s Brave Childhood – There is Hope

Jeannie’s Brave Childhood – There is Hope

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

globe shape filled with photos of people

ATN: The Power of Community

[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.”

picture of roman numeral pocket watch in sand

Surprised by Attachment: Time

–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

ATN Resources

Parenting

Therapeutic Parenting - Empowering Trauma-Informed Parents to be Therapeutic.

Trauma-Sensitive Schools

Creating Trauma Sensitive Schools- Empowering Trauma-Focused Educators and Schools

TSS Conference

Annual Creating Trauma Sensitive Schools Conference.

Get Involved

Join ATN - Together we can end the silence around childhood trauma!

Professional Development Programs For Educators

Resource Directory

Coming soon an online directory of trauma-informed professionals.

Shop ATN

Join ATN. Shop for resources, swag and tools to help us empower and support children families schools and communities.