Attachment Theory In Early Childhood

Child Behavior Problems 6 Year Old

Attachment TheoryYoung Caucasian girl playing ukulele

The attachment theory argues that a strong emotional and physical bond to one primary caregiver in our first years of life is critical to our development:

1. If our bonding is strong and we are securely attached, then we feel safe to explore the world. We know there is always that safe base, to which we can return to any time.

2. If our bond is weak, we feel insecurely attached. We are afraid to leave or explore a rather scary-looking world. Because we are not sure if we can return.

3. People who are securely attached are said to have greater trust, can connect to others and as a result are more successful in life.

4. Insecurely attached people tend to mistrust others, lack social skills and have problems forming relationships.

There is one type of secure attachment and there are 3 types of insecure attachments:

1. Anxious/Ambivalent

2. Anxious/Avoidant

3. Anxious/Disorganized.

In responses to distress, the first 3 react organized, while the last acts disorganized.

Attachment Theory In Early Childhood

  • The attachment is anxious disorganized Our attachment is formed in the very first years of our lives, a time when we are too young to communicate our anxiety and as a result can experience high levels of stress.
  • Our adrenal gland – an organ sitting on top of our kidneys – produces the stress-hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
  • The heart rate increases, the blood pressure goes up and we become alert.

If that happens frequently, it is called toxic stress. Toxic, because it impairs the development of a child’s brain, and weakens the immune system. In embryos or at a very young age, toxic stress can even switch the expressions of genes, which can affect our health many decades later.

Simulating a Strange Situation

By simulating a Strange Situation, we can assess an attachment style, already by the age of one. To do this, we let the child play with their mothers for a few minutes inside a room. Then the child is left alone. The key moment is the child’s reaction when her mother returns.

  • Securely attached children first usually hug their mother, they can calm down and eventually get back to playing.
  • Insecurely attached children can be ambivalent and avoidant. Some can’t stop crying or refuse to continue playing.

The long-term effects of our attachment

The long-term effects of our attachment in the early years are well documented. Using the theory, researchers at Minnesota University were able to predict already at age 3, if a child would drop out of high school with 77% accuracy.

In another study:

  1. Undergraduates at Harvard were asked to assess how close they felt to their parents. 35 years later they were asked about their health.
  2. 91% of those who said they had a rather broken relationship with their mother, were also diagnosed with health issues, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, and alcoholism. For those that had reported a warm relationship, the figure of poor health diagnosis was just 45%.

Attachment Therapy

But there is another reason why the early years deserve special attention. They are the starting place for subsequent behaviors:

  1. A kid that feels securely attached at age 2, can make friends at kindergarten. Their worldview gets reinforced with every interaction and they develop optimism. As a result, they make good relationships at school, then at a colleague and later at work.
  2. Highly insecurely attached children can miss out on this opportunity. Psychologist John Bowlby, a pioneer in attachment theory, allegedly said, “What cannot be communicated to the mother, cannot be communicated to the self.”

In other words: those who feel insecurely attached, might not quite understand themselves. To get to know who they are and what they feel, they might have to go way back in time.

Read More: Early Childhood Education

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