Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Attachment Patterns of Children

What is your child's attachment style?

Much has been studied and written about attachment patterns in children. Attachment is an important concept; it is the part of the relationship between parent and child that makes the child feel safe, secure, and protected. It's about availability. A child who experiences the parent as consistently available (i.e., present, warm, responsive, supportive and encouraging) tends to be able to successfully manage emotions and behaviors and can establish and maintain positive relationships. Children develop different styles of attachment based on their interactions and experiences with their parents.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Mary Ainsworth began studying children and patterns of attachment. Examining children's reactions to separation, Ainsworth derived four categories of attachment: 1)secure; 2) anxious-avoidant; 3) anxious-ambivalent; and 4) disorganized.

Securely attached children protest or cry upon separation from their parents but are excited upon the parents' return, desire to re-connect with them, and are able to tolerate their feelings. These children have an internalized model of a relationship with their parents that feels reliable.

Avoidant children give the impression of independence upon separation from their parents, continuing to explore their environment without much concern for their parents' departure. Upon their parents' return, these children tend to avoid or dismiss their parents and become angry or resistant to reunification. These children have an internalized model of a relationship with their parents that feels inconsistent and they take on an "I don't need you" stance.

Ambivalent children tend to be clingy and agitated upon separation and are afraid of their environment. When their parents return, they initially seek contact but then pull away and resist efforts to be comforted. Like avoidant children, these children also have an internalized model of a relationship with their parents that does not feel consistent and where there is uncertainty about the parents' availability and connection.

Disorganized children do not display a typical pattern of reaction to parental separations and reunifications; their reactions are unpredictable and may be both anxious and avoidant.

Children can display different attachment patterns with different people and there is room for patterns of attachment to change over time during childhood. What children need to thrive emotionally is parental emotional availability and responsiveness. Parents do not have to be outstanding at this, they really just need to be "good enough." "Good enough" parenting goes a long way toward the promotion of healthy child development.

Karen, R. (1990). Becoming attached. The Atlantic Monthly, pp. 35-70.
Winnicott - "Good Enough" Mother concept