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Answers to Some Frequently Asked Attachment Questions

I talk about attachment a lot. In fact, I dedicate several class sessions (about 2-3 weeks) to teaching about attachment in two of my courses at James Madison University and I'm currently developing an entire course about "Attachment and Communication" to be taught over the typical 16-week semester in the fall (2017). I've also given talks at childcare conferences, held workshops for new parents, and spent hours discussing attachment with my friends, family, and colleagues. I love it.

I've also written several posts on this blog about the subject...

Yesterday, I hosted a Facebook Live Mini Lecture on our Facebook page where I answered three questions that people asked in an anonymous survey about infant attachment. In this post, I wanted to summarize those answers, answer a couple more questions that were asked after the live lecture, and include a group of resources for those of you who are interested in learning even more about attachment.

Before I answer some attachment questions, here's the online Q&A session I held yesterday.

Question #1: My 1-year-old cries every single time I leave the room. Does she have an insecure attachment style?
Actually, attachment in toddlers is not usually assessed by the behaviors of the children during separation. Instead, researchers focus on the child's ability to get back to a homeostasis when the caregiver returns and attempts to help them calm down. Does the child use the primary caregiver as a secure base to down regulate his/her distress from the separation? Insecurely attached children tend to remain angry at the caregiver for leaving, refuse to be comforted by the caregiver, or are simply incapable of calming down. The point is that most babies cry when you leave them. Crying when you leave the room is not indicative of an insecure attachment.

Watch this video that shows the different reactions children have during a the experimental procedure that spoke about in my Attachment Q&A Session (called "The Strange Situation") where attachment security is assessed.

Question #2: Does putting my child in daycare damage his attachment style? What if my partner and I are consistently sensitive and attentive to our baby, but our childcare provider is not?
It's not the act of putting your child in daycare that causes insecure attachment to develop. Many children go to daycare during the day, where they have secure relationships with their childcare providers, and then they come home with their parents, where they also have secure bonds with their parents. These children's attachment styles don't seem to be impacted by daycare. Children who are surrounded by loving, caring, sensitive, patient adults (whether they are parents, grandparents, nannies, or childcare workers) who are emotionally and physically able to attend to the child's needs typically have secure attachment styles as older children.

Insecure behaviors or insecure attachment styles could develop if (1) the child's environment is inconsistent, switching from one caregiver to another to another to another too frequently, or (2) the responses the child receives from the adults (all of them) in the child's life are inconsistent, with some adults being consistently sensitive and other adults (who spend a significant amount of time with the child) being inconsistent in their sensitivity/responsiveness or insensitive/unresponsive most of the time.

So how can you evaluate a daycare provider? See the lists of resources at the bottom of this post for some great ideas. I also give some suggestions in the Facebook Live Q&A session near the top of this post. As long as all of the individuals caring for your child are completely clear about what it is that you want as a parent and everyone is complying with your requests about needing consistent, loving responses for your baby, your child's attachment security should be able to be maintained.

Question #3: I think my son has an insecure attachment. Is he destined for a life of bad relationships?
Research has shown that caregivers have the ability to change attachment from insecure to secure by revamping the way they interact with their children. By systematically changing the way you respond to your child's bids for affection, attention, and emotional help, you can definitely improve your child's attachment. But, it will take a good amount of planning and energy on your part; you have to be ready to put the time in. The point being that, no, your child is not doomed for a life of bad relationships, but you need to work on building up those feelings of safety within your child.

Children need to know that they are loved and that they are lovable, which are two completely different, yet equally important, feelings. They need to know that people enjoy them. That they are worthy of affection. Children who have secure attachment styles believe these things.

Question #4: Isn't attachment just a style of parenting? How can I know that this is the "right" way to parent my child? Isn't it really just "to each his own"?
When you have a baby, you get inundated with tons of advice (usually unsolicited) from friends, family members, and even strangers. People want to tell you how to parent your baby based on their own experiences or what they've heard from others. It can get overwhelming trying to deal with all of this information. I want to be very clear here when I say that attachment theory is NOT A PARENTING STYLE. Deciding whether to co-sleep with your children, how long you're going to breastfeed your baby, or if you're going to engage in spanking as a discipline tool are parenting styles. As a parent, you can decide if you want to do those things based on your values, opinions, time, and energy.

Attachment theory is about child development. Articles about parenting styles are persuasive. Articles about attachment are informative. I'm not trying to persuade you to believe that this is the right way to interact with children. Instead, I'm informing you that when you interact with children in certain ways, this is what happens. Researchers have spent decades examining how the brain is impacted by early childhood interactions. This field of investigation is called attachment research. While there are criticisms of attachment research, as there are with all kinds of scientific inquiry, scholars rarely contest the plausibility of the theory's main assumption: when you respond in a sensitive, caring, consistent ways to your child's distress and bids for affection, secure attachments develop, which help them build relationships with others more easily for the rest of their lives.

Here are some great resources to help if you feel like you're in any of the situations described above or if you're simply interested in learning more.



  • If you feel like you need professional help for your child's attachment, be sure to find a therapist who specializes in attachment theory. A great place to find a therapist near you is http://www.GoodTherapy.org


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