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  psych bytes

December 2010


by Joyce Parker, Ph.D.

Babies have an instinctual need to bond with the people who take care of them. This need is present at birth and reaches its greatest intensity around ages 2 to 3. The primary caretaker need not be the biological parent but must be responsive and available for the child to develop a healthy attachment. There are four styles of attachment:

1. Secure Attachment: Securely attached babies actively seek and desire proximity to, or interaction with the primary caretaker when they feel anxious, sick, frightened or tired. These children smile more and verbalize more to parents. They are more willing to explore stranges places. They are more quickly and effectively comforted by their parents after a brief separation.

The following factors favor the development of a secure attachment (in "Human Development" by Ripple, Biehler and Jaquish):

  1. The provision of an enviroment that helps the child develop the feeling of having some control over what happens.
  2. Seeing things from the infants point of view and responding promptly and appropriately to the baby's signals.
  3. Frequent and sustained physical contact, especially during the first year of life, including the ability to soothe the baby's discomfort through physical handling.
  4. The establishment of feelings of mutual delight between caregiver and child.

2. Insecure Attachment: These children display behaviors characterized by intense anger at or avoidance of the parent when they are upset by separations or changes in their routines. They tend to cling more and explore strange places less. They are more likely to cry and less likely to interact positively with parents and peers.

There are three styles of insecure attachment:

  1. Avoidant Attachment: These babies conspicuously avoid proximity to, or interaction with the primary caretaker when anxious or upset. This pattern develops when a caretaker is rejecting, frequently angry or irritated with the baby. These caregivers are more likely to use physical punishment and less in tune with the babies needs and wishes when they picked them up.
  2. Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment: These babies resist contact and/or interaction with the primary caretaker when anxious or upset. This patterns develops when a caregiver is more likely to devote themselves to routine activities when holding the baby. They are less sensitive to the baby's wishes. They are inept in handling the baby during close physical contact.
  3. Disorganized Attachment: These babies behave confused and disoriented when anxious or upset. They don't seem to be seeking, avoiding or resisting proximity. Rather the signals they express are confusing and difficult to respond to. These caregivers were inconsistent. At times their caregiving was adequate but at other times they were physically or psychologically abusive.

Thus, the security of attachment a child has to his/her parents is an important determiner of how well adjusted that child will be.

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