The Importance of Attachment in a Child’s Development

Attachment or bonding is the developing relationship established between a primary caregiver, usually the mother, and her child. Attachment behaviors begin early in life. This narrow age limit is often called the critical period. This trusting relationship developed in infancy forms the foundation for a child’s development. If a child has a secure attachment, he will grow up to view the world as a safe place and will be able to develop other emotions. It has become more and more apparent that a healthy attachment is most important in human development.

Why do some children survive and even rebound in the face of adversity? Some children are able to adapt and rebound and develop the resources they need to cope. The basic foundations of a child’s personality are formed in their early attachment to an adult caregiver. It allows the child to develop trust in others and a reliance on himself. Unless properly treated, unattached children grow up with pain and anger often vented on society. The major threat to attachment is separation. Some families do not have the strength to cope with chronic stress and repeated crises.

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Probably the single most important factor is the establishment of a secure attachment to the primary caregiver. The secure attachment is favored by a secure, relaxed, supported mother. Family conflict, violence and family breakdown that leads to poverty, threatens healthy child development. A caring parent with reasonable expectations is most likely to help the child develop the optimistic perspective and coping skills they need.

Infants seem to rely on their caretakers long before they can indicate attachment with crying. In some hospitals, babies are scheduled to receive regular holdings and cuddling by staff members. Infants who do not receive contact comfort in infancy do not thrive and may not even survive. If the infant’s physical and environmental needs are met sufficiently, the infant develops the ability to trust others and the environment. However, if the infant has not learned through attachment, he will carry this with him through life. Interventions are aimed at enhancing the adaptive capabilities and to strengthen coping skills within the client’s family.

Babies let their needs be known by cooing, babbling, gurgling, facial expressions and body movements. Coping with a child’s demands can be exhausting to any parent, but they can help the child develop trust by paying close attention to what the infant needs.

Attachment theory is important in social work. Social workers are a major provider of treatment. As a mother to an infant, a therapist who is available to their clients, and shows empathy, will provide a positive relationship. Clients are less prone to fear. There is a parallel between being a parent and a professional social worker. Like a parent, social workers do not have to be perfect, but they need to be sensitive to their client’s needs. They have interdisciplinary relationships with other mental health professionals. They must be aware of the principals involved in attachment theory. Knowledge and skills related to this field of service are needed to better help the children with this disorder.

Culture shapes the cycle of development or growth of the members of a family. This becomes especially important when moving from one culture group to another. Each group shares patterns of social and personal relationships. There is a heavy burden put upon some minority groups in the development of resources. Attachment is easily recognized across the world. We are all part of a nurturing system, the immediate family. It is important for social workers to understand culture differences when developing approaches to dealing with attachment disorders. Some may stress the development of independence and autonomy, while others identify a greater emphasis on maintaining relationships.

By the first year of a child’s life, they are supposed to become attached to certain people who have responded to their needs for physical care. Intimate relationships formed during infancy give rise to continuing relationships and individual development. This is an important stage necessary for coping.

According to Bowley and Ainsworth, experts in the field of attention disorder, the love between a mother and an infant is the result of an attachment formed during that first year. This is the basis for all close relationships.

Attachment problems occur when there is an absence or disruption in the relationship in the early years. To bond with the mother or primary caretaker must be consistent. The mother can still work and take her child to day care. The child will bond with a number of individuals as long as they are secure and nurturing.

Attachment theory affects social attachment and emotional development even though it doesn’t always show up until later in the infant’s life. In the first month of life, infants will cry to communicate pain, hunger or loneliness. When the caretaker responds, the infant attaches and develops physically normally. The baby will respond to language by laughing, crying and smiling. Infants must attach or they will have difficulty with language development. They will not use words to express their needs.

Emotional development is also affected by attachment. A child will not learn to share or play with other children. An infant needs to learn how to play in order for them to explore for learning. When they get no response, they will eventually stop responding like attached infants. They will fear strangers. Unattached infants will react to stressors by spitting up or sucking their thumbs. They often react to stress with eating and bowel problems.

Secure individuals who have adequate bonding with their caregivers as an infant, will grow up to have more positive self-concepts and will believe that most other people are good natured and well- intentioned. They will see their relationships as trusting and satisfying. They will be more satisfied in their jobs. Unattached individuals will make less money, as they will work more for the approval and recognition than the money. Secure infants grow up to have healthy relationships later in life. They are not bothered by the breakup of a relationship. They will have less feelings of jealousy. The ultimate goal of a healthy person is to be able to love and work,

Even an infant’s brain is affected by attachment disorder. The brain is greatly affected by the infant’s experiences. It has been found that an infants brain growth is directly related to how much his mother or primary caretaker speaks to him.

Although my focus is on the infancy stage of development, some studies have shown that attachment begins even before birth. The expectant mother’s attitude about her pregnancy has a great affect on the unborn child. Whether or not she abuses substances during her pregnancy also affects the development of the child. The babies will feel all that the mother goes through. The baby will already begin the attachment if the mother is happy and excited about the birth. If, however, the mother does not want the child, those feelings are also projected onto the fetus.

As early as 1944, Bowlby researched the lack of a mother figure in troubled children. He found thieves had no bonding caregiver. Bowlby was first inspired by Lorenze’s studies. He believed that babies, like young animal species, are equipped with built in behaviors that help to keep the parent near by. Contact with the parent also insured the baby would be fed, although he pointed out that feeding was not the main basis for attachment. Bowlby stated that as time passes, and a bond forms, the parent-child bond becomes an important part of the personality.

According to Freud, a human being’s first encounter with intimate behavior is with his mother during breast-feeding. Attachment during infancy is when the child obtains pleasure and nourishment from the mother’s breast. This reduces the stress and tension associated with hunger. This tension reducing activity in the early stage serves as a model for relationships that develop later in life. Attachment theory makes good sense. Children’s social behavior, emotions, cooperation, and play resemble those of our primitive ancestors. Babies are biologically prepared to contribute to the establishing of the bond with their caregivers.

Proposed varieties of attachment include secure attached infants who seek close contact and will greet the parent with a smile. Avoidant infants avoid the parent. Resistant or ambivalent infants will actively or passively show hostility toward the parent. They show no emotion when the parent leaves, nor are they affected when the parent returns. Later, secure adults find it easy to get close to others and are comfortable depending on others. They have had a secure childhood and were well taken care of by their mothers. Avoidants are people who have been constantly denied the physical contact by their mothers and tent to express behavior problems. Anxious or ambivalent people whose parents were inconsistent responding to their baby’s cries are very distrustful of others. They are uncomfortable being close to others. They often later feel that their partner doesn’t really love them or want to stay with them.

Bobby is an example of an unattachment child. Bobby acted out by being cruel to animals. He could show ‘charming’ behavior but was also aggressive with others and lied. He indicated his need to maintain distance between himself and others and his need to control the environment. Bobby was placed in the first of five foster homes at the age of six months during his infancy stage because of physical abuse at the hands of his biological father. This was a child who trusted no one. New foster caretakers were unable to get through to him regardless of what they did. He was already showing signs of attachment disorder. These behaviors are defenses that the child engages in. Every relationship that this child has had has been disappointing, frightening and confusing. Imagine Bobby’s feeling at only five years old. He now suffers from attachment disorder caused by the early abuse and neglect. He has become so enraged that he is compelled to destroy everything. Attachment ensures the child’s physical and emotional survival in life stemming from infancy.

Another child, Ann was not bonded during the infant stage and began showing signs in her behavior. She could not become part of society or form a conscious or empathy. Ann grew up being depressed. She began running away from home as a teenager. Ann was often suicidal. Attachment theory explains why Ann threatened suicide and ran away from home.

Studies have found that 60 – 80 percent of felons have been neglected. Many symptoms of attachment issues are similar to ADHD and are often misdiagnosed. To determine if a child is suffering from attachment problems, an assessment must be made by a qualified professional.

Bowlby writes articles giving guidelines for the treatment of attachment disorder. Assessment, diagnosis and treatment can help the child work through his past. There is hope for their future. The focus should be on prevention. These children can learn to trust and accept love. They can develop a sense of self and feel good about themselves. The goal of treatment is to prepare the child to function as a contributing member of a family and the community. Babies need love and interaction with their caregivers to develop properly. This is how they learn to love and other human qualities. Like a butterfly, an infant has to go through various stages of development, each with its own characteristics and each is vital to the next stage.

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The Importance of Attachment in a Child’s Development. (2018, Jun 27). Retrieved from