Understanding attachment is a necessary step towards understanding the normal stages of child development. Attachment refers to the deep emotional bond established between a child and his/her primary caretaker, such as a mother, father, or grandparent. It is instinctual – we are all born with the instinct to attach to a protective and loving person who will take care of us guide, and support us. Attachment is an important process, as children’s physical, emotional, and psychological development depends on attachments formed to parents or adult caregivers. While the supply of food, clothing, and shelter is important, it is not enough to promote normal development. Loving care and attention are also needed if children are to grow into adults capable of forming healthy relationships with others. Attachment is the basis for this process, By influencing a child’s understanding of himself, the world and the people in it. Secure Attachment Children form strong and healthy attachments By getting their needs met on a continuous basis. For example, a mother who responds to her child’s cries of hunger By picking him up and feeding him, is responding to her child’s needs. This helps the child feel relaxed and comfortable until another need is felt (e.g the need for a diaper change). When needs are met, children develop a sense of satisfaction, trust and a sense of attachment to the parent/caregiver. In time, the child also begins to view the world as a ‘safe’ place in which his needs will be met if he communicates them, since others are ‘trustworthy’ and will take care of him. This healthy attachment helps the child to thrive physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically. A responsive caregiver means that the child’s basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter are taken care of. Additionally, when the child is provided with a caring adult who is consistently present and available, responsive to his needs, and is supportive of his growth and development, a ‘secure base’ is formed. The security (of the responsive caregiver) allows the child to focus on learning and growing because he is aware that the caregiver will take care of him, guide him and keep him safe. One example of the impact of healthy attachment on children’s development is the experience of HIV-positive babies placed in foster homes. When the stigma of HIV/AIDS was prevalent in the early to mid 80’s, infants who were born HIV-positive were often left in the hospital to die. This rejection in itself impeded the infants’ growth. When these infants were placed in foster care, however, they were provided with a nurturing environment, which facilitated attachment to their caregivers. Thus, these children developed a sense of trust and attachment to the persons meeting their physical, emotional, and social needs. They began to thrive developmentally and their prognosis was more promising. Insecure attachments Insecure attachments often form when children are neglected or abused By their caregivers; for example, when a toddler is left at home alone for hours without someone to feed, change, or comfort him. Chronic experiences like this result in fear and insecurity, which then undermine the child’s ability to form a secure attachment with others. A child who is sexually abused By a parent may be unable to trust adults to care for him or keep him safe. He may also be afraid to attach to other caregivers or others adults because past attachments resulted in maltreatment. This child may have developmental delays and problems in school as he struggles through the effects of the abuse. For abused children, an unpredictable, ‘insecure’ base is formed. These children may not be confident that their needs (e.g for food, comfort, or care) will be met on a consistent basis, and may have come to view the world as an unsafe place, filled with unreliable people. They then devote their attention and energy to survival and safety (e.g finding something to eat, or making sure that they don’t get beaten) instead of branching out to learn and develop new skills. With damaged self-esteem, these children may be afraid to take risks or try new tasks; both of which are very important tasks of development. Even though a child is abused or neglected, however, he may still be able to form attachments with his caregiver/parents. The child may blame himself instead of thinking that the parent is at fault. Additionally, even though the relationship is painful, it is also familiar and it is what the child knows. To the child, abusive attention may be better than no attention; and even though the parent is abusive, there may be nurturing or loving moments, and it is at these times that the positive feelings and attachments are reinforced. The Continuum of Attachment Less Secure Attachment More Secure Attachment In looking at children’s attachment history, it is helpful to look at a continuum that goes from less secure to more secure attachment. Having unattached children is rare because most children will have formed an attachment along the way, even if the attachment is fragile. Insecure attachment in some children leads to disorganized behavior. These children do not know how to get their needs met and act out of control because they do not know how to regulate their emotions. Ambivalent children have learned at an early age that it is best to hide their needs and feelings By detachment and avoidant behaviors. They may have been punished for expressing their needs. In contrast, anxious children exhibit clingy and needy behavior. These children have experienced some attachment but are preoccupied with not being left alone and making sure that their needs are met. Children who have developed a healthy attachment are the most secure. How does attachment affect us as adults? Healthy attachment develops a child’s identity and self-worth, as well as his sense of security in negotiating life’s challenges. It also helps build trust, empathy, conscience, and compassion for others, all of which form the basis for developing healthy relationships in adult life. There is a link between childhood attachment patterns and adult attachment styles and relationships. Insecurely attached children tend to have greater psychological problems and may have issues in their adult relationships such as insecurity, emotional and physical distance, and aggression. As adults, securely attached children tend to have higher self-esteem and greater success in their relationships, as well as higher scores in the areas of trust, intimacy, independence, coping skills, and compassion for others. Submitted By Debra Matthew Reference: PRIDE (Parent Resource for Information, Development, and Education), Child Welfare League of America