Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development

Category — 1.3 Social and Emotional Development: Attachment


Attachment is what allows a child to form healthy relationships, first with their primary caregivers, and later with others. When children form attachment bonds, they learn love, significance, safety, and security. Developing these feelings allow children to explore the world with confidence, and foster their growth and learning. Exploring the world nurtures a child’s cognitive development.

In order for a child to form healthy attachments, their needs must be met. It’s very important that a baby learns that someone will always be there to help and protect them when they are in distress and in need. Only then will the baby form an emotional bond, or attachment, with their primary caregiver.

⎯ Babies and children whose needs are not met early in life may grow up to be insecure toddlers and adults. This is because their experience has been that there is no one they can count on. This may prevent them from learning to form healthy and long-lasting relationships with others.

Caring or spoiling? Parents and caregivers who are present for their child are not spoiling them. In fact, research in child development has shown that children who have caring adults responding to them when they cry tend to feel safe and secure with their primary caregivers.

The most famous study on attachment behavior in toddlers was the study conducted by Mary Ainsworth, Jean Bowlby’s student. Ainsworth observed toddlers in situations of high distress. She described the biological drive of children and adults that gets activated when they are distressed or feeling unsafe.

  • When the biological drive is activated in a child, they need to be soothed as quickly as possible because children “shut down”, or become inhibited when feeling threatened or unsafe. For example, children in distress will not move around and explore their environment or learn.
  • Ainsworth reported that children needed comfort, to be held and soothed during these times, to de-activate this biological drive.

Ainsworth then listed the following conclusions about children and the different ways they attach to caregivers.

  • Securely attached: these children have healthy relationships with their mothers. They are more likely to leave their mothers’ side to explore new surroundings. They are less likely to be overly anxious when their mother leaves the room (because they know that she is coming back) and are usually genuinely glad to see her return. They are less likely to be wary of strangers.

December 3, 2010   No Comments