The Importance of Attachment

A large body of research has consistently supported the links between early security and insecurity in the child’s early relationships and future adaptive and maladaptive developmental outcomes (1).

Some of the key research findings on attachment are listed below:

  • Mothers’ vocal contingency when infants were 4 months old was the strongest predictor of infants’ security of attachment over 2 years later (2).
    • This means mothers’ behaviors matter from the birth.
  • The ways in which mothers manifest their sensitivity can be diverse, yet individual differences in maternal sensitivity can remain relatively stable as infants mature (2).
    • Mothers’ behaviors are likely to continue once they have been established.
  • Children’s self-reported attachment to their mothers predicted emotional health, and attachment to fathers predicted behavior regulation (1).
  • Self-regulation is the basic process that allows for successful development (3).
    • Self-regulation is best achieved through secure attachments.
  • Children with secure attachments with both parents scored significantly higher on peer competence, school adjustment, and positive view of self, and significantly lower on anxious or withdrawn behavior (1).
  • Parents who had inconsistent or chaotic caregivers when they were younger have a much more difficult time providing a supportive relationship for their own children (4).
    • These skills of being a nurturing, supportive, responsive parent be relearned as an adult, though, with the right interventions (4).
  • A secure attachment with at least one parent was a powerful factor that offset risks for mental health (1).
  • Children with insecure attachments had significantly more externalizing and internalizing problems than secure children; especially those with insecure attachments with both parents (1).

Essentially, secure attachments provide young children with benefits such as a sense of trust, a willingness to explore, a positive view of oneself, an understanding of empathy and the ability to express emotions (5). While insecure attachments lead to poor outcomes including: behavioral problems, trouble regulating emotions, difficulty interacting with peers and even parenting as adults (4). 

So what can parents do to develop secure attachments to their infants (5)?

  • Make eye contact with your children.
  • Smile and talk to your child: When an infant smiles, an adult needs to smile in return.
  • Express warmth and touch.
  • Be sensitive and responsive: Children learn trust when someone responds promptly and consistently to their needs, especially during the first year of life. Infants, especially, simply do not understand “waiting” for someone. Adult responsiveness and encouragement reinforces a child’s actions and behaviors. Sounds, cries, facial expressions and actions all need responses so a child learns to interact with the world. The child develops focus, interest, excitement, wonder and curiosity as adults respond.
  • Get in tune with your child: Fostering a secure attachment begins with attending to your child’s needs. Attention begins with focusing on your child and perceiving his or her cues that care or comfort is needed (cues such as crying, holding arms out to you, etc.). Then you need to interpret the signal correctly (understand what he or she wants) and respond in a way that comforts or assists the child.
  • Follow your child’s lead in play: Follow your children’s lead and cooperate with them in how they try to play or interact, rather than forcing them to follow your own desires for interaction.
  • Read together.
  • Avoid overstimulation.

As you can see, one of the best thing you can do is to make yourself available to your children as often and as best as you can. It’s important that you are mentally engaged in being available and attentive to your children when you are with them, not just a warm body that is present. Young children will rely on you and come to trust you only if you are present so do your best to manage your schedule and life so you are physically available to your children when they need you.  

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1 Kochanska, G., & Kim, S. (2013). Early attachment organization with both parents and future behavior problems: From infancy to middle childhood. Child Development, 84(1), 283-296. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01852.x

2 Bigelow, A. E., MacLean, K., Proctor, J., Myatt, T., Gillis, R., & Power, M. (2010). Maternal sensitivity throughout infancy: Continuity and relation to attachment security. Infant Behavior and Development, 33, 50-60. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.10.009

3 Lerner, R. M., & De Stefanis, I. (1999). Commentary: The import of infancy for individual, family, and societal development: Commentary on the special section: Does infancy matter? Infant Behavior and Development, 22, 475-482. doi:10.1016/S0163-6383(00)00020-5

4 Fallen, E., (2012). Attachment in infancy important in development


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