Attachment

By August 27, 2020 Uncategorized

Parenting children, especially with special needs, can be quite a challenge to say the least.  I’m sure all of us parents can share a story of their child having a meltdown and being completely dumbfounded as to where the emotional outburst came from.  Maybe there was a time when your own parenting response was so surprising, it left you wondering, “Where did that come from?”  Have you ever considered your child’s and your response may have been from your attachments made within the first year of life?

What exactly is attachment and the theory behind it?  According to Psychology Today, attachment is defined as the emotional bond that forms between infant and caregiver, and it is the means by which the helpless infant gets primary needs met. It then becomes an engine of subsequent social, emotional, and cognitive development.  When referencing Attachment Theory Bowlby believes our earliest bonds with our caregivers has tremendous impact throughout our life span.  He also suggests these attachment bonds with mother increases a child’s chance of survival from a primitive standpoint.  The four stages of the Attachment Theory include the following:

  1. Pre-attachment stage occurs from birth to 6 weeks of life, during this time the infant shows no specific attachment to a caregiver.
  2. Indiscriminate stage occurs from 6 weeks to 7 months, during this time the infant begins to show preference for primary and secondary caregivers.
  3. Discriminate stage occurs at 7 months and up, during this time the infant shows a strong attachment to one specific caregiver.
  4. Multiple stage occurs at 10 months and up, during this time the infant begins growing attachments with other caregivers.

Some adoptive parents hold the belief that if they adopt a child at a young age and take the role as primary caregiver, the child’s attachment would not be disrupted and the child will not be effected later in life.  Bowbly’s theory challenges this idea and states the most significant attachments occur in the first year of life.  Ainsworth expanded of this theory linking attachment to behaviors observed in children ages 12 months to 18 months.  Based on her research four types of attachment styles can occur.

  1. A secure attachment exists when the caregiver consistently meets the child’s needs allowing the child to feel safe and secure in their environment, which encourages growth and exploration. An individual with a developed secure attachment can trust fairly easy, is emotionally in tune, can communicate feelings directly, and can lead relationships in a cooperative and flexible manor.
  2. An anxious attachment can develop when if the caregiver responds to the child’s needs in an inconsistent way, leading the child to becoming confused and insecure as they are unsure if their needs will be met or not. An individual with an anxious attachment is constantly worrying about rejection and needs reassurance, often preoccupied with relationships and often insecure about those relationships.
  3. A dismissive-avoidant attachment can develop when the caregiver is unresponsive to the child’s needs most of the time. This leads to the child learning caregivers are unreliable and develop skills on how to self-sooth.  An individual with a dismissive-avoidant attachment will actively seek out relationships, however, if the relationship gets too close for comfort it will lead them to push away.  These individuals tend to be extremely independent and rather than resolving issues with loved-ones, they are able to switch focus on other goals.
  4. A fearful-avoidant attachment can develop when the caregiver is unable to comfort the child or responds in a threating way. An individual with a fearful-avoidant attachment are often fearful of close relationships and tend to have negative views of their selves and others.

I can imagine this is a lot of information and may be overwhelming to process, but understanding your child, yourself, and even your partner will give you a better, more empathetic understanding to who they are as a person.  The good news is attachment styles can change throughout a lifespan as new neural connections are made, regardless of age.  Just holding the understanding of a loved one’s attachment style can encourage you to shift the way you interact with that person, which can ultimately initiate change.  My final tip is to understand changing attachment is not an overnight process.  It takes time, understanding, and a securely attached individual’s love, support, and patience.

This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Brittney Engelhard, LBSW

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