Attachment Theory and the Parent-Child Bond

Attachment Theory and the Parent-Child Bond

The
attachment theory is a theory that was born a century ago, specifically in 1907, to explain the individual differences (also called attachment styles ) in how people think, feel and behave in interpersonal relationships.

The concept of “attachment”
refers to the emotional ties that people form with other people throughout their lives , first with their parents, and then with their friends, their partner, their colleagues and their children.

The beginning: Bowlby’s attachment theory

There are different views on this theory, but the best known is that of John Bowlby, considered the father of the attachment theory. He thought that
attachment begins in childhood and continues throughout life , and affirmed that there are systems of behavioral control that are innate and necessary for the survival and procreation of human beings.

Attachment and exploration systems are central to her theory, because from a very young age children have an innate behavior that makes them want to explore new things, but when they feel in danger or afraid, their first reaction is to seek the protection and safety of their primary caregiver.

The “strange situation” and types of attachment according to Mary Ainsworth

Bowlby laid the foundation for the theory, but another important figure in the study of attachment is Mary Ainsworth, one of the most renowned psychologists for her contribution to the theory. Ainsworth also thought that there were control systems, but she went a little further and proposed her concept of the “strange situation”, with which she added three styles of behaviour to the theory of attachment:
Secure , Insecure-Evitational and Insecure-Ambivalent . Later other authors identified other types of attachment, such as anxious attachment or disorganized attachment.

Types of attachment

The strange situation refers to the laboratory process in which the child is studied in interaction with his mother and a strange adult, i.e. in a situation with someone who is not familiar. The results of Ainsworth’s longitudinal study led him to conclude that

  • The secure attachment type is characterised by the fact that the child seeks the protection and security of the mother and receives constant care. The mother is usually a loving person who constantly shows and is affectionate, allowing the child to develop a positive concept of self and self-confidence. In the future, these people tend to be warm, stable and with satisfactory interpersonal relationships.
  • The type of avoidant attachment is characterised by the fact that the child is raised in an environment in which the closest carer is constantly neglecting the child’s protection needs. This is counterproductive for
    the development of the child, since it does not help him/her acquire the feeling of self-confidence that he/she will need later on in life. Therefore, children (and also adults when they have grown up) feel insecure and displaced by the experiences of abandonment in the past.
  • The type of ambivalent attachment is characterised by the fact that these individuals respond to separation with great distress and often mix their attachment behaviour with constant protest and anger. This is because they have not properly developed the necessary emotional skills, nor have they had expectations of trust or access to caregivers.

The four types of attachment according to Hazan and Shaver

Later, during the 1980s, Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver
extended the theory of attachment to adult love relationships . They identified four styles of attachment: secure attachment , anxious-care attachment , avoidance-independent attachment and disorganised attachment .

1. Secure attachment

They are adults who
present a more positive view of themselves and their interpersonal relationships . They are not worried about intimacy or independence, because they feel safe.

2. Worried-anxious attachment

These are people who
are usually constantly seeking approval from others and the continuous response of the partner . Therefore, they are dependent, distrustful individuals and have a not very positive view of themselves and their interpersonal relationships. They have high levels of emotional expression and impulsiveness.

3. Avoidance-independent attachment

These are individuals who
often isolate themselves because they are not comfortable in intimacy with other people , so they are very independent. They see themselves as self-sufficient and without the need for close relationships. They tend to suppress their feelings.

4. Disorganized attachment

Adults with distrustful attachments
are characterized because they have contradictory feelings in their interpersonal relationships . That is, they may feel both desirable and uncomfortable with emotional intimacy. They tend to see themselves as having little value and distrust others. Like the previous ones, they seek less intimacy and tend to suppress their emotions.

Fundamental principles for safe parent-child bonding

It is clear that, as much research has shown,
the attitude of the parents towards their children will be decisive for the correct development of their child . Therefore, parents must be careful when dealing with their children and must have patience so that they grow up healthy and with a strong personality to face the situations that may arise in the future.

In short, it’s important for parents to try:

  • Understanding children’s signals and how they communicate
  • Creating a foundation of security and trust
  • Responding to your needs
  • Hug him, caress him, show him affection and play with him
  • Taking care of your own emotional and physical well-being as it will impact on your child’s behavior

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