Parent-child bonds are crucial in the development of attachment styles. What kids learn about attachment during childhood often stays with them into adulthood, influencing behaviors and relationship patterns.
Babies learn whether or not people are generally loving and trusting based on how their primary caregivers meet (or dismiss) their needs. This doesn’t mean parents must fulfill every immediate want a child has; it means parents can provide the comfort, attention, and trust their developing child craves.
The child psyche wants to know:
Is my parent available and accessible to me?
Does my parent love me and pay attention to me?
Can my parents provide for me?
Am I safe and protected?
Caretakers’ responses and attitudes toward the child reveal answers to the child. Over time, the child learns what they can expect.
Every child develops a behavioral “navigation route” they default to based on their attachment styles. Here’s what you need to know about the four types, and how you can help your child through an insecure attachment.
What are Attachment Styles?
There are four attachment styles in the psychological understanding of attachment theory: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.
Attachment theory was developed by Dr. John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the 1950s.
How a caretaker or parent consistently responds to the baby’s basic needs greatly influences attachment.
For example, if the caretaker soon returns, soothing the crying baby and providing loving attention, the child learns their parent is available and trustworthy. The baby assumes it is generally safe and secure in the world.
If the parent ignores the baby or reacts sternly to its cries for comfort, the child learns the parent is unavailable and not always trustworthy. The baby assumes it might not be secure or safe in the world.
Many factors contribute to attachment and development, and there’s no easy answer for how to raise a secure child. Every parent is different. No parent is perfect. The best way to work with different attachment styles is to understand them.
Child Attachment Styles
Research indicates that at least half of adults today have a secure attachment style. Ideally, all child and adult attachment patterns would be secure. But child development (and parenting) is different for everyone.
Let’s look at each style of attachment.
Someone with a secure attachment is comfortable getting close to others. They aren’t afraid of expressing their emotions or preferences in daily life.
In relationships, the securely attached tend to share balanced levels of vulnerability and trust with another person. They maintain an overall positive view of themselves and the world.
With secure attachment, a child will:Seek healthy reassurance and comfort from parents
Receive guidance and comfort from others (teachers, babysitters, friends)
Tolerate being apart from their parents
React positively to the return of their parents
Feel safe to explore the world and build their sense of independence
Secure attachment is often the result of caring, trustworthy, and consistent caregiving.
A person with an avoidant attachment may seem overly self-sufficient and confident. However, they don’t feel comfortable getting close to others. This person doesn’t like to express emotions and often feels turned off by others’ feelings.
In relationships, avoidant people seem closed off. They don’t feel safe trusting another person so they keep an emotional distance. They might view the world with negativity or harsh rigidity.
With avoidant attachment, a child will:Keep their distance from parents and adults
Ignore or refuse guidance from others
Show little to no emotion when separating from the parent(s)
Display insecure or cold behavior, especially if they feel someone is getting “too close”
Develop too much independence very early
Avoidant attachment can result from overly strict, emotionally distant, or neglectful caregiving.
Anxious (Ambivalent) Attachment
Someone with an anxious attachment is insecure and attention-seeking. They desperately want to feel close with others and may overreact when bonds are threatened. They tend to express their feelings and often demanding or needing.
In relationships, the anxiously-attached struggle with major fears of rejection. They might act clingy and controlling. They want to trust the other person but struggle with constant suspicion.
With anxious attachment, a child will:The seek attention a lot and feel like they’ll die if they don’t get it or they don’t get what they want
Rely too heavily on guidance from others, often fearing decision-making
Dread being separated from parents
Appear emotional or negative when reunited with parents
Feel wary of most others while remaining hyper-dependent on a select few
Anxious attachment often results from inconsistent, chaotic, or anxious-preoccupied caregiving.
A person with a disorganized attachment appears confused and inconsistent with others. They often don’t know what to expect around people. They may fluctuate between anxious/avoidant traits, exhibiting hyper-vigilant or codependent behavior.
In relationships, a disorganized person fails to practice healthy communication or expectation. They often have many barriers up to protect themselves from getting hurt.
With disorganized attachment, a child will:Fear comfort and reassurance from adults
Appear confused or apprehensive toward guidance
Seem indifferent or relieved by separation from their parents
Try to take care of themselves at all costs
Have mixed feelings about others
Disorganized attachment is usually a result of traumatic, overpowering, or mentally unstable caregiving.
Encouraging Secure Parent-Child Attachment
What can you do to encourage a more secure attachment? No matter what age your child is, you can influence how they form bonds.
Here are some tips for helping your child form secure attachments.
More comfort, less criticism. When your child is distressed or crying out for comfort, be there for them. Don’t criticize them or their feelings. Show them love and safety. Listen to them, hug them, and tell them, “I’m here,” without needing to fix the situation, and hold the space.
Let your child do what they’re capable of. Don’t micromanage your child’s feelings or behaviors. Let them learn to be independent— capable of doing hard things.
Forgive mistakes. Children need to know it’s okay to make mistakes. Remind your child that just because they mess up sometimes doesn’t mean they are “bad”. Forgive their shortcomings and encourage self-worth.
Drop unrealistic expectations. Give your child some slack. If you learn toward being strict, remember to let go of high expectations. Let your kid be a kid. They need grace and love.
Express love. Unconditional love and specific love are essential for child development. Unconditional means you love them no matter what. Specific love means you love specific things about them. Tell them.
Model responsible behavior. Be an example of emotional regulation, healthy communication, and responsible behavior. Let your child see you interact and bond age-appropriately with adults and other children.
Work through your attachment style. Some parents struggle with parent-child attachment because they never got to learn what secure attachment looks like. If this is the case, you can start learning how to recognize and improve your relationships.
Parenting a Child With Insecure Attachment
If your child has an insecure attachment, you’re not alone. It isn’t easy setting up a healthy “relationship navigation route” as a family, but it’s possible.
At Bloom, we guide caretakers and parents through creating stable, loving relationships with even the most challenging children. We want you to understand your child’s behavior, attachment style, and deepest wants and needs.To learn more and get the support you and your family crave, join the Bloom community today.