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A New Parent’s Guide to Attachment Styles

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If you are a new parent, odds are you have read about or been told about the importance parenting and attachment styles.

It comes up in almost every discussion on childhood development and parenting. There is extensive research examining parent-child attachment and what exactly it means for our children’s development!

parenting and attachment styles

*This is a Guest Post and all the opinions are those of the author. This post may also contain affiliate links. Please rest assured that I only work with individuals and companies that I trust. While some of the companies and people I work with may work in the medical field, this post is not a substitution for medical advice. Always see your Doctor should you have mental health concerns.

What is attachment theory?

Attachment theory ultimately identifies the need for a child to form a relationship with at least one primary caregiver in order to achieve normal social and emotional development. In turn, this ensures the child will have the ability to form meaningful and lasting relationships in adulthood.

It was John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, two psychologists, who founded our understanding of attachment styles. In the beginning, Bowlby believed that infants and children are hardwired to form attachment to a figure due to their needs of safety and security.

We see this through various behaviors young children display. These may include crying and clinging to the figure they have attached to. This is commonly one, if not both, of their parents.

It is when this figure does not respond in the way the child needs, or not at all, that Bowlby theorized the child would develop psychological problems later in life.

It was Ainsworth then, a student of Bowlby, who broke down the types of attachment.

She did this by conducting what is known as the Strange Situation experiment.

In this experiment, there is a series of short separations and reunions by the baby from the parental figure. It is how the baby reacts to this figure when being reunited that is the key factor to understand the attachment style the baby has formed with said figure. This is how Ainsworth further broke down attachment styles and created the four styles we know today.

What are the four parent-child attachment styles?

Secure attachment style

The style that most children fall under is the secure attachment style. These children typically play comfortably in the same room as their attachment figure, lets say their mother, whether they are close to her or far. They are fine playing away from their mother but also using her as a “security base” if the need for one were to arise. When separated from their mother, these children may become distressed but can be easily calmed by their mother upon her return.

Growing up, the parents of these children would most likely have responded to their child’s needs quickly, consistently, and sensitively.

Therefore, these children were able to learn to trust their caregiver to provide for their needs.

Ambivalent attachment style

On the other hand, some children will become distressed at the removal of their mother and will become ambivalent upon her return. They may cry to regain her attention but they may also push her away.

These children do not use their mother as a security base to return to when needed. Instead, they stay close to her the entire time. Before separation is even considered.

The parents of this child most likely responded inconsistently to their child’s needs. Sometimes their needs were met with a sensitive response and sometimes was neglected. The child learned that they cannot rely on their caregiver to provide for their needs.

Avoidant attachment style

This attachment style is just as it sounds. Whether mom is near or far, these children tend to avoid interaction with her. Upon removal of their mother from their environment, these children show little to no distress. When she returns, they do not seek her out.

The parent of this child would often not respond to the child’s needs. They would be distant or disengaged from the child.

Later in life, due to the lack of response from their caregivers, these children will most likely suffer from psychological stress.

These children will likely subconsciously never feel as though their needs will be met.

parenting and attachment styles

Disorganized attachment style

These children become overly distressed at the removal of their attachment figure. However, upon their return, this child will act in a disorganized manner. He or she may approach but quickly back away.

The child that adopts this parent-child attachment style usually comes with a history of trauma or from a home with members having severe mental health problems.

The responses given by the parents of a child with a disorganized attachment style may respond erratically to their child. This leaves the child severely confused and unsure of how their needs will be met.

The above parent-child attachment styles can be separated into two overall classifications. These include: secure and insecure.

The insecure category consists of the ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized styles. Each of these styles are said to arise due to a parent’s unresponsive or inconsistent behavior and responses to their child.

Therefore, the child is left not knowing how to react.

secure toddler attachment

How do I build a secure attachment with my child?

Be present

From day one, make an effort to be present with your child. You carried your baby for nine months. You are all that they know.

In an new and unknown world, baby will look to you for comfort. Sing to them, talk to them,

Touch them, hold them. All of these things remind them that they are safe. Continually let them know you are there for them and respond to their needs when they arise.

Display empathy and warmth

In everything that you do for your child, let them know that they are loved. Allow your child to explore and make mistakes without the fear of being reprimanded.

-Multitasking Motherhood

Practice positive parenting principles to ensure they develop healthy and effective communication. By meeting your child with empathy and warmth, you show them that they matter.

Allow for their growth and exploration

gentle parenting style

Children, by nature, are curious creatures. Encourage your children to explore and make connections.

One of the most important aspects of growing up is learning how to fail. When they do, teach them how to use these failures for growth.

What if I make a mistake?

When reading about parenting styles, positive parenting, and parent-child attachment styles, new parents can feel overwhelmed. Ultimately, we want our children to be happy and self-actualized human beings.

We feel as though we cannot make mistakes because those very mistakes can impact our child’s future.

Well, new parent, never fear. Just as we teach our children that mistakes are inevitable and more than alright, we must also teach ourselves.

We are imperfect beings.

Simply be present with your child, be attentive to your child, and love them.

That is all that they need.

Cameryn of the Multitasking Motherhood with her family

Cameryn Vonbargen is a full-time student and stay-at-home mother who runs her blog Multitasking Motherhood. She has her degree in psychology and will soon have a second degree in nursing. She has a passion for writing about mental health, pregnancy, parenting, and marriage to help other moms with experiences similar to her own.

She hopes to add a real take on issues that aren’t talked about openly or deeply enough concerning the roles women assume in the journey to motherhood and marriage. You can join her Facebook group, find her blog here and follow her Pinterest.

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