Why is Attachment so Important?

Why is Attachment so Important
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We wanted to raise a new fundamental topic for the development of our children and young people – the attachment between parents and children and their importance in their development. For this, we will develop a set of articles related to this theme. We based articles on an incredible book: “The Attachment Connection” by Ruth P. Newton. Newton states that Attachment is closely connected to the well-being and adaptative development of babies. A secure and happy baby will have the chance to overcome difficulties, experiment with new ways and achieve their goals, in a confident and joyful way.

What is an attachment?

“Is a child’s biological tie or bond to her primary caregiver, usually her parents…to protect the child, thus ensuring (…) she will grow into an adult and reproduce guaranteeing the gene survival.” (Ruth P. Newton)

This quotation from Newton explicitly defines attachment. It is the connecting link between the baby and the primary caregiver, which is closely correlated with their protection and sense of security.

This connection exists throughout the relationship between son and father but is formed and especially intensified during the first year of the child's life. At a stage where the child needs to see their needs assured, the primary caregiver's behavioral response is essential. It is in this response that the child will base himself on the type of attachment that will develop relative to the caregiver.

Throughout the development of this concept, many theorists have helped in the understanding of this phenomenon a little better, from Bowlby to Ainsworth, through their countless studies and experiments to evaluate this primary connection between the two.

The most well known experiment is “The Strange Situation” which analyses the behavior of a child to the momentary absence of the mother, a space where the two were, the appearance of a stranger and the return of the mother and the way the child reacts to it resurfacing depending on the type of relationship/bond that you have previously established with the mother.

It was from this experience that the 3 attachment styles were identified.

Attachment styles

According to studies and experiments carried out by Ainsworth, it is possible to distinguish between three styles of attachment: secure, insecure-avoidant, and insecure-ambivalent. Each one of these styles presents very specific characteristics and consequent behaviors of the baby before the different situations in its development.

Secure Attachment: Children tend to be upset by their mother's absence and look for her when she returns. These children, although they miss their mother, seek comfort and play with their toys again. Based on their experience, the child developing this reaction correlates with the fact that they know that their needs will get a response from the primary caregiver.

The insecure-avoidant: In this case, the child does not approach the mother in search of comfort, even in case of feeling this need. He is likely to act indifferently to his mother's return. It is common to realize that the child does not abandon his play even after the absence of the mother. It is important to note that despite this, the child appears to be calm during this experience. “A growing amount of research measuring stress hormones and monitoring heart rates” (Ruth P. Newton) showed the existence of obvious signs of stress upon separation with the caregiver. Again, this response correlates with the connection between the two parties. The child feels that their needs are limited in extent. There may be no effort in the caregiver’s part for forming this bond.

The insecure-ambivalent: This is a very specific case, and as the name implies, something ambivalent. Although the child searches for the mother when she returns, she tends to react with anger, aggression and kicking. This behavior is related to the fact that the child believes that “exaggerat[ing] her needs [will] keep her mother close by and oriented to her”.

As we saw there are different styles of attachment, which can also be identified according to three parameters: quality of caregiver sensitivity, attunement, and responsiveness of parents to baby's needs.

different styles of attachment
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All parenting behaviors influence this relationship. The way they pick up the child, how they talk, play, change affections, facial expressions and how they react when the child needs something. Often, parents report having more distant interactions due to past experiences, their culture (among other factors), but this should not be an impediment to establishing a special, structured and securing relationship with the child.

When is this process started?

Establishing this type of bonding starts when the woman realizes she is pregnant. In the first three months, she has difficulty remembering that she is pregnant and this act of constant remembrance is the initial component of this process.

In the second trimester, the movement of the baby begins in the belly, great changes begin on the physical and mental level, it becomes clearer, more imagined. Mother and father begin to idealize their baby, the woman shares the movements of the child.

The third trimester is the time when the mother begins to understand the child's reactions to her laughter, certain foods, certain activities. (There is always a reaction.) The mother begins to idealize how she wants the child to be delivered, who she wants to be around, to whom she can turn, etc. These are moments of great sharing with everyone.

All these moments that arise from the beginning of pregnancy stimulate the development of the attachment.

Physical and psychological changes, changes in behaviors, habits, relationships will influence this connection, as well as the relationship between parents and the well-being of each.

It is a long journey, of constant learning, where every small step will influence the future connection between the parents and the baby. When the baby is born, this relationship has been worked on for more than 9 months. That first touch with the baby is fundamental. Both for mother and father. From here, another chapter of this great and beautiful journey begins.

Why is Attachment so Important
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Written by Inês Santos

Inês is a psychologist with several years of experience working with children and teenagers in different contexts. She loves to share her knowledge to help other people and writes based not only based on scientific evidence, but also on the experience she has accumulated through her work.