Attachment Theory And The Bond Between Parents And Children

What is attachment and why is it so important for children to grow up happy?

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

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

The beginning: Bowlby’s attachment theory

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

Attachment and exploration systems are central to his theory, since from a very young age children have an innate behavior that leads them to want to explore new things, but when they feel in danger or scared, their first reaction is to seek protection and security from your primary caregiver.

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

Bowlby laid the foundations for the theory, but another important figure in the study of attachment is Mary Ainsworth, one of the most recognized psychologists for her contribution to the theory. Ainsworth also thought that control systems existed, but he went a bit further and proposed his concept of “strange situation”, with which he added to the attachment theory three styles of behavior: Safe , Insecure-Avoidant 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 the interaction with his mother and with a strange adult, that is, in a situation with someone who is not familiar. The results of Ainsworth’s longitudinal study led him to conclude that:

  • The type of secure attachment is characterized 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 and constantly showing and showing affection, which allows the child to develop a positive self-concept and self-confidence. In the future, these people tend to be warm, stable, and have satisfying interpersonal relationships.
  • The avoidant type of attachment is characterized by the fact that the little one is raised in an environment in which the closest caregiver ceases to constantly attend to his protection needs. This is counterproductive for the child’s development, as it does not help him to acquire the feeling of self-confidence that he will need later in life. Therefore, children (and also as adults when they have grown up) feel insecure and displaced by experiences of abandonment in the past.
  • The ambivalent type of attachment is characterized by the fact that these individuals respond to separation with great anguish and often mix their attachment behaviors with constant protests 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 expanded attachment theory to adult love relationships. They identified four attachment styles: secure attachment , attachment anxious-preoccupied , avoidant-independent attachment and attachment disorganized .

1. Secure attachment

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

2. Worried-anxious attachment

They are people who tend to constantly seek 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 present high levels of emotional expression and impulsivity.

3. Avoidant-independent attachment

They are individuals who tend to isolate themselves because they do not feel 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 attachment are characterized by having contradictory feelings in their interpersonal relationships. That is, they may feel both desirous and uncomfortable with emotional intimacy. They tend to see themselves as of little value and distrust others. Like the previous ones, they seek less intimacy and tend to suppress their emotions.

Fundamental principles for a safe parent-child bond

It is clear that, as many investigations have shown, the attitude of parents towards their children is going to be decisive when it comes to their child developing correctly. Therefore, parents must be careful when treating their children and must have patience so that they grow up healthy and with a  strong personality to cope with situations that may arise in the future. 

In summary, it is important that parents try to:

  • Understand children’s signals and the way they communicate
  • Create a foundation of security and trust
  • Respond to your needs
  • Hug him, caress him, show him affection and play with him
  • Take care of your own emotional and physical well-being since it will affect the behavior towards your child 

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