Thursday, February 11, 2010

Attachment Patterns

The behaviors that babies show when they are distressed reflect the quality of their attachments to parents. Among “typical” parents and infants, children develop expectations based on a long history of interactions with parents. One can then “see” these expectations as children behave in characteristically different fashions when they are distressed.

Through careful observation of mother-infant pairs in naturalistic settings, Mary Ainsworth noted differences in the way children moved away from their mothers to explore and then returned for reassurance and affection. Ainsworth’s research also led to the identification of three attachment styles. In general she described infants as either securely or insecurely attached. Insecure attachment can be further subdivided into either an avoidant or resistant style depending on the particular pattern of behavior displayed by the child. For each attachment pattern there is a corresponding parenting style:

Secure Attachment:

Children explore freely in the presence of their caregiver, check on him or her periodically, and restrict exploration during the caregiver’s absence. Children who are securely attached show varying levels of distress in the absence of their caregiver but respond positively to the caregiver’s return because of their faith in the parent's care. They will seek contact with their parent when distressed and will settle down once contact is made and comfort is provided.

Parents of secure children are sensitive to their child’s signals, receptive and accepting of their child’s distress, and consistent in applying this positive parenting style.

Insecure Attachment:


Children seem not to care whether a parent is present or absent. In the presence of the caregiver, avoidant children will explore their environment without caring about where are what the parent is doing. Upon departure avoidant children are minimally distressed. when parents return, avoidant children do not move toward the parent or try to initiate contact. In fact, they often ignore or avoid the parent. Despite this apparent lack of concern, infants with this style show as much, if not more, physiological arousal than other infants, suggesting that they have learned to contain/accept their distress.

Parents exhibit care patterns that do not provide adequate comfort when the child is emotionally upset, ill, or hurt.


Children are characterized by exaggerated expressions of attachment needs. They are often clingy and preoccupied. In the presence of their caregiver these children are reluctant to explore their environment and preoccupied with getting the attention of their caregiver. When a parent departs, resistant children become extremely distressed. When the caregiver returns, resistant children both seek and resist contact. When they do seek contact they have difficulty settling down and do not respond well to their caregiver’s attempts at soothing.

Parents of resistant children tend to be inconsistent in response to their child’s signals of distress.

--When I read about these patterns it made me extremely sad to learn that children with insecure attachment patterns "develop the inability to form secure attachments and react in a hostile, rejecting manner with their environment" when this could all be prevented with proper care and nurturing of the child from the beginning.

Parents have a lot to do with a child's nature, personality and how they react to relationships. Even the smallest acts of kindness, protection and caring like a hug, kiss or a smile, make a big difference to children. Research shows time and again that babies who receive affection and nurturing from their parents have the best chance of developing into children, teens and adults who are happy, healthy and competent.

When I am a parent of a newborn i want to love, care for and nurture them so that they feel secure and happy. I know that this is my primary role as a mother and does not end at infancy. Children need love and support all throughout their lives.

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