Have you ever wondered why some people struggle to maintain close and healthy social relationships, while others don’t? This is directly related to attachment, and in this article we will tell you all about the different types of attachment and how to create a healthy bond with your baby.
The way people relate to each other has a lot to do with the bonds they create during the first years of life, and that’s why it’s so important to foster a healthy and secure attachment dynamic with your baby.
The science behind attachment
According to John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist and researcher, the emotional responsiveness of our first experience of attachment could be the most influential factor in human development. Bowlby found that primates seek an adult’s protection when they are in danger, just as we do.
According to this pattern of survival, Bowlby concluded that we are programmed to form attachments, and possess an innate willingness to seek the proximity of a protective adult. A human being’s first attachment is most commonly established during infancy with the primary caregiver, but other social relationships can also contribute and be present in the attachment process.
During their first two years of life, babies form attachments with their parents or primary caregivers. This means that the quality of interaction between you and your baby will be very important for the social and emotional development. Some factors that may influence the type of attachment that your baby will develop are: physical contact and attention to basic needs.
The critical period to form an attachment to a parent or primary caregiver is during the first two years of life. It’s very important to foster a secure attachment in your baby, as this will influence the quality of interpersonal relationships in the future – including romantic ones! Attachment is very important because children learn essential qualities like empathy, understanding, love and adaptability during infancy.
What are the four different types of attachment?
Mary Ainsworth, an American psychologist and researcher, developed an experimental procedure called “Strange Situation” to measure the performance of the relationship between a mother and her baby by studying a group of children who were about 1 year old.
The infants were put into unfamiliar scenarios with their mothers as they freely explored the environment. After that, a stranger entered the room and approached the child in a gradual way, as the mother left the room so the baby was left with the stranger.
Ainnsworth and her team sought to answer these questions about the situation:
- How did the little one respond when the mother left the room?
- How comfortable was the baby by being physically away from the mother?
- How did the infant interact with the stranger?
- How did they greet their mother when she returned?
Some of the behaviors observed during the procedure were:
- Exploratory behaviors, like moving around, looking around the room and playing with toys.
- Search behaviors, like looking at the mother, following her to the door, banging on the door, looking at the mother’s empty chair and going towards it.
- Affective displays of attention, like crying, smiling, hugging, playing, etc.
This procedure was intended to evoke separation anxiety to activate the attachment system. According to Ainsworth, the factor that determines the type of attachment is the reaction shown by the baby when meeting back with the mother. Based on the observations, they came to the conclusion that babies can have different types of attachments depending on the bond they have with their parent or caregiver. This procedure can show the type of attachment that a baby has developed by observing the reactions related to their behavior after separation has occurred.
These are the four different types of attachment, as reflected by responses to the experiment:
1. Secure attachment
A secure attachment is characterized by an overall adaptive response of trust, a capacity to connect, an appropriate autonomy, and the belief that one is worthy of love.
When babies develop secure attachment, they are able to separate from their parents, but showing slight distress is normal. When meeting after the separation, babies will tend to show positive emotions and less anxiousness. This could be because their parent or caregiver has been consistent and responsive towards their needs.
Also, babies with this type of attachment constantly seek comfort when scared in order to maintain a proximity with their parent or caregiver, as well as preferring to be with any of their parents rather than a stranger.
Adults who have developed a secure attachment during childhood tend to have a positive image of themselves as well as others, a positive value for relationships, and can generally be responsive and accepting. They will also be better at maintaining emotional balance, having self-confidence and trust in other people, being apt to seek support, share their feelings, and rebound from disappointment and loss.
2. Avoidant attachment
If babies develop an avoidant attachment, they will tend to avoid the interaction and comfort from their parents or caregivers, and would not show preference or differences in the interaction with them and a stranger.
They will also show no distress during the separation. Different from the secure attachment, this style may occur because parents or caregivers don’t have enough emotional proximity to the baby, or are unavailable, resulting in an internalized belief of not being able to depend on that or other relationships.
Some physical signs of avoidance can be: avoiding eye contact, turning away, or simply showing discomfort with physical touch or closeness, which can happen when the baby returns to their parent or caregiver after separation.
3. Resistant attachment
A resistant form of attachment would result in babies that show signs of a distant and resisting attitude with the parent or caregiver after an episode of separation. However, if contact with the parent is established after the episode of separation, babies can also show very strong intentions to maintain such contact, resulting in maladaptive behaviors.
Also, babies with this type of attachment tend to be suspicious of strangers, get nervous when left alone, and would not seem to feel comforted with the return of their parent or caregiver.
Opposite from the secure attachment, this style may occur because of an unreliable and inconsistent response from the caregiver or parent towards the baby, resulting in an ambivalent and resistant attitude.
4. Disorganized attachment
Finally, if your baby has developed a disorganized attachment, it would be displayed in a mixture of avoidant and resistant behaviors which can be observed as contradictory behaviors. In this attachment style the child may grow up without an organized strategy for relationships, coming from unpredictable parental behavior.
Other factors related to attachment
In addition to early experiences, genetics play a role in your baby’s social and emotional development, as some early experiences can activate or deactivate certain genes. Also, it has been discovered that the development of negative forms of attachments or the reaction to traumatic experiences can be related to the presence of certain genes. Although genetics plays a fundamental role in your baby’s development, we know that positive early experiences can make all the difference.
A secure attachment is good for you, too! As you bond with your baby through positive and enjoyable experiences, your body will release endorphins that will give you more energy, motivate you, and even make you feel happier. Fostering secure attachment will be beneficial for both you and your baby.
How to foster secure attachment
First of all, take care of yourself:
- In order to build a secure attachment and positive bond with your baby, it’s important to take care of yourself, so you can present your best self to them.
- Pay attention to your own emotions and choose what you communicate to your baby. From a very young age, babies can sense when you’re at ease or when you’re impatient, when you’re irritated or when you’re relaxed, and so on. Babies can perceive this in the way that your tone of voice changes and through your body language as well.
- Try to get enough, or as much sleep as you can. Sleep deprivation can cause irritation, a cranky mood, and tiredness.
- Ask for support around the house. Having a safe network of close friends and family is essential, especially in the first two years of your baby’s life.
- Plan some time away. Taking time away for yourself can be beneficial and effective in your parenting. It can be something as simple as scheduling a yoga class, walking around the block, or enjoying a coffee at your favorite coffee shop. Just make sure to find an activity that you enjoy that can provide you peace and renewed energy.
Understanding your baby’s cues:
- Each baby has a unique personality and set of preferences, and knowing them will help you respond to them appropriately. At first, it’s common that all sounds and cries will sound the same, but they are mostly always accompanied by movements.
- You can start by becoming familiar with the difference between sounds your baby makes while crying, and relating them to what they mean when you address them. For example: if your baby is hungry, the cry may be a high-pitched one, while the tiredness cry can be a low and short pitched one. This could vary, and each child will express their needs in a different way.
- Notice the sounds, environments, and movements that your baby enjoys. This means knowing how they like to be comforted and being consistent when doing so.
- There will be difficult moments for your baby like teething, developmental changes, or being sick. Just remember that communicating with love, patience and soothing will always benefit your baby.
- Early cues and signals will act as opportunities for secure attachment. For example, getting proper rest will help your baby stay calm and engaged when being awake. Babies, as many of us do, communicate better when they are calm and alert.
- Schedules can be very helpful to ensure your baby is receiving a proper nutritional intake and also to give them consistency in their daily habits. Make sure to be aware of their unique cues and signals to see if they may need changes in their schedule.
Talking, playing and laughing with your baby:
- Playing, having fun and sharing happy experiences and moments with your baby is essential. Interactions like smiling, laughing and touching are as important for your baby’s development as eating and sleeping.
- Communicating with your baby can go further than only talking; your body language, tone of voice, and overall non-verbal communication are all aspects that can contribute to ensure a positive communication.
- Tools like toys, books, and music can be helpful to initiate play, but sometimes all it takes is a goofy voice or face and some smiles to interact with your baby.
- Some playful time can be tiring for your baby, so just make sure to be aware of the signs that may indicate tiredness or exhaustion.
You don’t have to be the perfect parent in order to have a secure attachment with your baby:
- Even though understanding and attending your baby’s cues is important, you don’t have to know what your baby wants all of the time. The quality and responsiveness of the interaction with your baby will sometimes be more important than actually being able to know for sure what all of your baby’s signals mean.
- Noticing and repairing a missed signal will become an important part of the process of building and strengthening the relationship you have with your baby.
- It’s impossible to be present and attentive 100% of the time. It’s important for you to have moments of support and help in order to stay relaxed, calm, and engaged with your baby.
Find ways to calm yourself during difficult moments:
- Feeling stressed from time to time is completely normal, and being anxious can result in difficulties when trying to soothe your baby.
- Take deep breaths and try to stay calm yourself before soothing and calming your baby.
- You don’t have to do it yourself; contact your close friends and family members and ask for help when you’re having a difficult moment.
- If you can, try to change up your environment or scenery. This can help both you and your baby take your mind off things and relax. You can do this by simply taking a walk around the block.
Parenting to foster a secure attachment means “being with” or cultivating sensitivity to what children are feeling or going through at that moment. Also, it’s helping your child understand, label, and manage their emotions. It can also simply be sitting and waiting with kindness, love and understanding. Daniel Siegel in his book Raising a Secure Child says: “feeling felt is one of the most important needs children have”.