Attachment Theory

Attachment Theory in Child Psychology

Attachment Theory

There is a social-emotional relationship developed between the child and the parent, usually the mother, because preattachment develops during prenatal and soon after birth. Attachment theory has played an important role as a framework for exploring and explaining parent-child relationships and the impact of early relationships on child and adult development (Palm, 2014). There are multiple types of attachment theories. Parenting styles are big influences on attachment. Babies develop a set of forecasts about parents' opportunities and openness, both generally and in times of stress. The result shows the importance of early attachment and the development of inner working models and how those become a state of mind in adulthood (Palm, 2014).

John Bowlby

John Bowlby is one of the theorists on attachment styles. He believes that a child forms an attachment to an adult to survive, creating a social-emotional relationship. He believes in a four-phase growth attachment. He illustrates how attachment is basically like a security blanket for babies and it provides an invulnerable ground for them to explore and a safe shelter to come back to in distressing moments. For the infants, the full intention of the attachment is to dwindle stress and have a feeling of ease with their overseers.

Mary Ainsworth

Mary Ainsworth is another theorist of attachment. She believes in the quality of attachment, and believes that attachment can be in different forms. She uses a study of attachment relationships known as "Strange Situation." In this study, she came out with four different types of categories for attachment: secure, avoidant, resistant, and disorganized attachment (Kail, 2015).

Bowlby's Growth of Attachment

The growth of attachment happens in a collection of four phases. The first phase is preattachment. Preattachment takes place during prenatal and soon after birth. Babies recognize their mothers' smells and sounds very quickly. The reaction of infant's actions from the parents help solidify the relationship and attachment between the infant and the parents.

Attachment in the making is the second phase in attachment. This takes place from 6-8 weeks to 6-8 months. The baby behaves differently in front of the familiar caregiver than in front of an unfamiliar adult. However, they become more dependent on the caregiver, being able to identify the caregiver more and more as the time goes on.

The third phase is true attachment. True attachment happens at 6-8 months to 18 months. The infant will look at its mother for reassurance whilst looking out at the environment around it. This is when it is established that the infant trusts its mother. This shows cognitive growth in the baby.

The fourth phase is reciprocal relationship. This takes place from 18 months on. The infant's cognitive and language skills are growing. They collect experiences to help them in acting like actual partners with their parents in the attachment relationship.

Ainsworth's Quality of Attachment

The quality of attachment came from her study, Strange Situation, which accumulated four different categories. Strange Situation was a study of attachment relationships between infant and mother. The study is broken down into eight episodes lasting about three minutes long. The four categories are secure, avoidant, resistant, and disorganized attachment.

The first category is secure attachment. Secure attachment is that the infant may or may not cry. However, when the mother comes back, the baby stops crying. The infant misses mom, but know when she's back, the infant will be okay. The infant will engage with people whilst the parent is nearby and when the parent leaves, the infant cries. When the parent shows back up and gets reunited with the baby, the baby is happy. Approximately 60 to 65 percent of United States babies have secure attachment relationships (Kail, 2015).

The second category is avoidant attachment. Avoidant attachment is when the baby is not visibly upset with mom as she leaves; however, when mom comes back, the infant may ignore her. The infant will look at the mom like "You left... myself!" The baby will ignore or avoid the parent when the stranger is around. The infant does not show interest in the parent and does not express emotion to the adult. About 20 percent of U.S. infants have avoidant attachment relationships (Kail, 2015).

The third category is the resistant attachment. Resistant attachment is when the mom leaves the infant, the infant become upset or angry. The infant will remain upset or angry with the mother and becomes very stubborn and hard to console. The infant will express affliction in the presence of the stranger, even with the parent is nearby. About 10 to 15 percent of U.S. babies have this resistant attachment relationship (Kail, 2015).

The fourth category is the disorganized attachment. The disorganized attachment is when the baby is befuddled when the mother leaves and when she comes back, is not able to comprehend what is occurring. The infant has a bewildered look on its face. It is more the category for those infants who do not fit into the other three categories. About 5 to 10 percent of U.S. babies have the disorganized attachment relationship (Kail, 2015).

Fathers and Attachment

Attachment usually happens between mothers and infants first. The infant grew up with the mom's heartbeat and voice first. However, infants do become attached to their fathers. Fathers spend more time playing with their babies than taking care of them (Kail, 2015). Babies prefer to play with their fathers over their mothers. Fathers are more physical players with their children than the mothers, who are more into reading and playing patty cake with the infant. Fathers have been playing an important role in secure attachment. Jay Belsky identified two personality characteristics, extraverted and agreeable, in correlation with secure attachment relationships with infants (Palm, 2014). They create more engrossment and more satisfying interactions between the father and baby. One of the issues with the father attachment is the fact that the father's role in the family is constantly changing. Fathers are taking on more of a stay-at-home role than the mother staying home to take care of the infant.

There are factors of a child's characteristics that control the father-child attachment. A common factor is the gender of the child. Fathers usually end up playing with sons more. Another factor is age or maturity; example: preemies can't explain that they do not want to play.

Cultural Attachment

In nearly all countries, about 55 to 70 percent babies are catalogued as secure attachment using. The different style of attachments from the different theories alter from one country to the next. As an example of this, the book states Japan uses resistant attachment and Germans encourage independence, so avoidant attachment (Kail, 2015, p.315) There is thought that secure attachment is adaptable from place to place. Fathers' attachment is different for each country. The research for attachment theory is limited.

Parenting Styles

There are four types of parenting styles. The first style of parenting is authoritarian parenting. Authoritarian parenting combines high control and little warmth (Kail, 2015). The parents have a strict set of rules for the child and expect no discussion about them. The parents do not consider the child's needs or desires. They only expect hard work, respect, and obedience. The second style of parenting is authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting combines a fair degree of parental control with warmth and responsivity to children {Kail, 2015). The parents have rules for the child and promote discussion. The parents will encourage their kid to talk to them about the issues the kid may be having. The third style of parenting is permissive parenting. Permissive parenting offers warmth and caring but little parental control (Kail, 2015). The parents are usually all right with the way their child's demeanor is. They will chastise the children sporadically. The fourth style of parenting is uninvolved parenting. Uninvolved parenting provides neither warmth nor control (Kail, 2015). The parents cover the bare needs of the children, physically and emotionally. The parents and the children do not interact with each other very often or try to control the amount of time they do spend together. The parents try to become emotionally impartial to the children.

Children most like secure attachment. When parents are being hostile towards their children and not empathetic and compassionate, the children will not go to their parents for comfort and support. Fathers have more attachment to their daughters than their sons. There is no significant link between parents' attachment styles and their secure attachment to their children (Jones & Cassidy, 2014). There are various factors that go into attachment. The personality of the child is one of these various factors, and parents’ attachment style goes into play. The mother or father's attachment styles really come into play in the adolescent's secure attachment. Sometimes the mother's attachment style is related to how the children see their mothers. However, the father's attachment style is not related to how the children see their fathers. Mothers are known as the caregivers and fathers are more of the players for the child. 


Jones, J. D., & Cassidy, J. (2014). Parental attachment style: Examination of links with parent secure base provision and adolescent base use. Attachment & Human Development 16(5), 437-461. doi:10.1080/14616734.2014.921718

Kail, R. V. (2015). Attachment. Children and their development (pp. 311-317). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Palm, G. (2014). Attachment theory and fathers: Moving from "being there" to "being with". Journal of Family Theory & Review, 6, 282-297. doi:10.1111/jftr.12045

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