Attachment is the deep and enduring connection established between a child and primary caregiver (typically mother) beginning in the womb, continuing to develop in the first several years of life, lasting an entire lifetime. Attachment is based in evolutionary biological necessity. Attachment behaviors must exist and be reciprocated for the infant to survive physically and psychically. Attachment is an instinctive system in the brain that evolved to ensure infant safety and survival. Attachment and secure base functions operate to promote child, brain, and personality development and emotional regulation.
The emotional bond that forms between infant and a parent, not only stimulates brain growth but affects personality development and lifelong ability to form stable relationships. Neuroscientists now believe that attachment is such a primal need that there are networks of neurons in the brain dedicated to it, and the process of forming lasting bonds is powered in part by the hormone oxytocin.
All infants/children need a primary caregiver who cares for them in sensitive ways and who perceives, makes sense of and responds to their needs. A secure attachment establishes the basis for:
- Exploration of the world
- Resilience to stress
- Formation of meaningful relationships with self and others
- Ability to balance emotions
- Make sense of life
- Create meaningful interpersonal relationships in the future
- Self-confidence, independence, autonomy
- Competency in social environments
- Positive behavioral performance
- Academic success in school
- Adaptive, resilient behaviors in the face of adversity
- Ability to communicate needs
- Ability to manage impulses and feelings
- Maintain emotional balance and regulate feelings
- Strong positive relationships with parents, caregivers, and other authority figures
- Pleasure from interacting with other people
- Positive leave-taking and reunion experiences
- Positive emotional and play states in relationships
- Long-term friendships
- Develop fulfilling intimate relationships
- Positive and hopeful belief systems about self, family and society – the world is benign
- Rebound from disappointment and loss
- Promote secure attachment in their own children when they become adults
If the attachment bond does not occur with sufficient regularity, then the necessary safe and secure experiences do not occur as they should. Instead, insecure attachments are formed. Insecure attachments arise from repeated experiences of failed or broken emotional communication and connection. Insecure attachment may lead to:
- Behavior problems
- Emotional dysregulation
- Cognitive delays
- Developmental delays and regression
- Social relationship problems
- Family problems
- Attachment Treatment and Parenting Model, by Daniel A. Hughes, PhD (pdf)
- Bonding and Attachment in Maltreated Children, by Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD (pdf)
- Attachment and Child Development, by Karol Wilson, LMSW, and Rosemary Jackson, LMSW (pdf)
- Attachment Styles (pdf) Some material from HelpGuide
- Symptom Checklist for Childhood Attachment Disorder (pdf)
- Cassidy, J. & Shaver, P. R. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guildford Press.
- Hughes, D. A. (2009). Attachment-Focused Parenting: Effective Strategies to Care for Children. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
- Hughes, D. A. (2006). Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Troubled Children (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Jason Aaronson, Inc.
- Karen R. (1998). Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Newton, R. P. (2008). The Attachment Connection: Parenting a Secure and Confident Child Using the Science of Attachment Theory. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.