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Everything a New Parent Should Know About Attachment Theory

A brief history of Attachment Theory - and why you should care

You've probably heard of attachment theory but in case you don't remember exactly what its all about - we're here to refresh your memory now that you're a new parent.

Infants who develop secure attachments tend to display higher levels of self-esteem and self-reliance later in life.”

Attachment theory focuses on the relationships and emotional bonds between people, especially those between a parent and child, and also between romantic partners. According to this theory, the quality of a bond between a mother (or other primary caregiver) determines a baby’s sense of security and approach to the world. Based on this bond, children develop internal working models of the self and others. A securely attached child will essentially view the world as a safe place and see themselves as worthy of love and attention.

British psychologist John Bowlby was the founder of Attachment Theory. Bowlby believed the first bonds formed by a baby with their caregiver have an enormous impact that continues throughout life and theorized that babies are born with an innate drive to form attachments with caregivers. He was especially interested in understanding the separation anxiety children experience when apart from their mother or primary caregiver. According to Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, nurturance and responsiveness of a caregiver are key to a child’s sense of security and therefore, the physical accessibility of the caregiver is critical for the development of a secure attachment.

American-Canadian psychologist Mary Ainsworth later expanded upon Bowlby’s work. Her famous “Strange Situation” study looked at the reaction of babies (between 12-18 months) in a situation in which they were briefly left alone and then reunited with their mothers. From the study, Ainsworth was able to determine two additional factors are important for infant attachment: (1) the baby’s belief that there are open lines of communication with his/her mother and (2) the baby’s belief that his/her mother will respond if called upon for help. Her researched informed the development of the four main patterns of attachment we recognize today including ambivalent, avoidant, disorganized and secure attachments.

Studies reveal that if children do not form a secure attachment early in life, it can have a negative impact on their later years. Infants who develop secure attachments tend to display higher levels of self-esteem and self-reliance later in life. Children who developed secure attachments as babies also tend to do better in school, have more successful relationships and experience less depression and anxiety.

Given the lasting importance of secure attachments, it makes sense that parents should strive to ensure a secure attachment is made. To achieve this, it helps to also briefly review the four stages of attachment, developed from researchers Rudolph Schaffer & Peggy Emerson:

1- Pre-attachment (Birth to 6-12 weeks): Baby displays no special attachment to a specific caregiver

2- Indiscriminate (6-12 weeks to 7 months): Baby begins to show preference for primary and secondary caregivers

3- Discriminate (7-11 months): Baby demonstrates a strong attachment to and preference for one specific caregiver

4- Multiple (9+ months): Baby develops bonds with other caregivers

While most babies do not display a strong preference for caregivers prior to six or seven months, this time is still critical. By offering quality caregiving, which includes responding quickly and consistently to baby’s needs, baby will come to learn that they can depend on people who are responsible for their care. Nurturing with lots of hugs and affection are great. Another way parents can help aide a secure attachment is through “mirroring”, or offering emotionally attuned responses. For example, when baby cries, mom offers comfort or when baby smiles, dad smiles back.

At Pramglam, we are all about taking every opportunity we can to engage and connect with our littles! This includes the time baby spends in a stroller. So next time you go for a walk we encourage to glam up your pram with our stroller mirror and turn the walk into added bonding time. As always, we wish you many happy and engaged walks together. May you and baby both never lose sight of what you love.


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