Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development

Category — 1.4 Social and Emotional Development: Attachment


As we saw in Module 1, Typical development, 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.

A child’s need to feel safe and loved by their primary caregivers is “hard-wired.” Love and safety ensure that children will develop secure and strong attachments to those who take care of them. When a child’s need for love and safety is ignored, children experience neglect. When a child is physically, emotionally, sexually and/or verbally abused, they may not trust their primary caregivers and feel unsafe around them. Neglected and abused children are likely to develop insecure attachment to those close to them. Children who experienced insecure attachment tend to struggle with forming healthy and loving relationships with significant others later on as adults.

The emotional and psychological well-being of a child is largely depend on the early relationships they form. This is why it is so important to support these relationships and avoid any disruptions. Disruptions in children’s early relationships have been linked to Reactive Attachment Disorder or Non-Organic Failure to Thrive (see full Glossary).

Not only are babies hard-wired to receive love and affection, they come equipped to send signals to their primary caregivers indicating this need for love and affection. Sometimes, however, these signals are weak and/or inconsistent and parents find them difficult to read. Therefore, they may not effectively respond to their babies’ needs. These difficulties in engaging with their babies, or lack of “attunement2 may result in insecure attachment between parents and their child.

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

  • Insecurely attached-anxious/ambivalent: these children are less likely to be securely attached to their mothers and are less likely to trust her. Therefore it may be difficult for them to separate from their mother and explore their surroundings. They may show distress if their mother leaves and be less likely to accept her reassurance when she comes back. They are more likely to be wary of strangers.
  • Insecurely attached-anxious/avoidant: these children are also less likely to be securely attached to their mothers. They may leave their mothers’ side to explore their environment and treat their mothers and strangers in almost the same way. They are generally less likely to be distressed if their mother is away and are more likely to avoid her when she comes back.

Other researchers have done similar studies involving children and caregivers from different cultures and have come to very similar findings and conclusions!”


Lacey’s teacher noticed that Lacey had difficulty feeling other children’s pain. When the teacher met Lacey’s parents they were emotionally detached. While waiting, Lacey’s brother cried. The parents ignored him and did not acknowledge Lacey. Lacey grew up in a home that was not emotionally responsive to her needs. By ignoring the baby they taught her that it is ok not to respond to the needs of others. Because her feelings were not acknowledged she did not learn to relate to others.

1. see References
2. see References
3. Considering Empathy by Bellous, J. (N.d.) Available at: http://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/3-1a.htm)

March 10, 2011   No Comments