The Development of Secure and Insecure Attachments in Children

There has been much research associated with attachment and especially on the development of different types of attachment. Attachment is defined as the relation that exists between a mother or caregiver and a child. There are two main forms of attachment. These are secure and insecure attachments (Attachment, 2006). Secure attachment is where a child demonstrates mild stress and discomfort when separated from the primary caregiver who may be a parent, most commonly the mother. A child who has developed a secure attachment is easily comforted and soothed with the return of the primary caregiver. The only way to develop secure attachment in a child is for the caregiver to provide care that is both receptive and unfailing. (Attachment, 2006). On the other hand, insecure attachment is of three main types. There are the avoidant, the resistant, and the disoriented/disorganized insecure attachments. Insecure attachment develops in instances where the caregiver was either reluctant to respond to the child or acts in an indignant way to the needs of the child. (Gotlib & Hammen, 2008). In avoidant attachment, the child does not in any way seem affected by the departure of their primary caregiver. In resistant attachment, also known as ambivalent attachment, the child is openly troubled by the departure of the caregiver. (Attachment, 2006). In disorganized/disoriented attachment, the child may display contradictory behavior such as seeking contact one minute then abruptly avoiding it. However, because coding procedures were not available, this particular type of insecure attachment was not included in most of the earlier studies conducted into the causes of insecure attachment. (Cassidy & Shaver, 1999).

This essay will discuss research by Donald Dutton into the role of partner violence, the attachment theory by Bolby, the influence of genetics by Kagan, and cross-cultural influences on attachment.

Let us first consider one such research that was carried out by Donald Dutton where he focused on partner violence. (Dutton, 2000) He concluded that in most cases, childhood trauma stemmed from poor attachment and parental abuse (Dutton, 2000). Dutton’s works were highly influenced the attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969). According to Bowlby, (1969) in instances where caregivers are absent, unresponsive, or even unreliable, children often develop insecure attachments or what he referred to as maladaptive relationships. Thus, according to Dutton, it is hard for abusive parents to give reliable and receptive care. Thus, Dutton’s study suggests that this is primarily what leads to insecure attachment. (2000).

According to Cox, (2000) John Bolby, was among the first people to research children and attachment. He researched the effect of children growing up without their mothers and set forth the maternal deprivation hypothesis. Bolby argued that children who did not form a close attachment with a caregiver are more likely to develop social and emotional problems later on in their lives. (Cox, 2000) He compared two groups of juveniles. Group one consisted of juveniles who were also delinquents. On the other hand, group two was made up of juveniles who were experiencing emotional problems but had never committed offenses. The results of the research were such that more juveniles in the first group were found to have been separated from their parents while they were still in their first years of life. (Cox, 2000). Thus, he concluded that the separation from their caregivers at a young age had served to deprive them of necessary maternal love. Hence, delinquency and emotional problems were the consequence of maternal deprivation. Bolby’s work has helped to explain why mothers should be present in the first years of their children’s lives. From his studies and research, he concluded that maternal presence helps the child to form secure attachments and thus avoid delinquency later on in life (Cox, 2000).

There has been researching linking attachment formation and the cultures of different countries. According to Reebye, Ross & Jamieson, such research was carried out in the northern part of Germany by Grossman and Grossman back in the 1980s. (N.d.) The research reported that about two-thirds of their children test subjects were insecurely attached with half of them being avoidant. The reason for this was the fact that German mothers encouraged their children to be independent at a very early age. (Reebye, Ross & Jamieson, N.d.).

More research was carried out in Israel. In this case, the research was focused on infants who slept in a communal setting and those who slept next to their mothers. According to the research, children who slept next to their parents or caregivers were found to be more secure than their counterparts who slept in a communal room. The reason for the disparity in the attachment lies in the fact that the infants who slept in the communal room received less attention. (Reebye, Ross & Jamieson, N.d.).

There has also been researching carried out on heredity and the effects it has on attachment formation. According to Kaplan (1989), heredity highly influences such psychological functions as feeding, a child’s level of excitability, and even the feeding patterns. Kaplan arrived at this conclusion after studying babies in their first eight years of life. The study revealed some children to be shy while others were not. This was then linked to the children’s biological differences. Thus, from a group of ten infants, one appeared not only passive but also reserved especially in new and unfamiliar situations. Consequently, three-quarters of children who exhibit passivity grow up shy and inhibited in their relationships. The children then form insecure attachments. (Kaplan, 1989).

A study of twins and children who had been adopted provided more insight into the role of genetics in shyness. Kagan’s studies seem to indicate that how children react, to what is referred to as the Strange Situation, is highly determined by their inborn temperament. (1989) Therefore, according to research by Kaplan, the type of attachment developed by a child is determined by the infant’s temperament rather than the nature and relationship of the child and the primary caregiver. However, according to Goossens & Van Ijzendoorn (1990), temperament is not the only major factor influencing the formation of attachments rather, the mother-child relationship plays a part.

Most of the research that has been carried out, has served to provide crucial insight into attachment development. Primary attachment between a mother and her child develops right after birth and especially in the first two years of life. Moreover, attachment is developed as a result of the interaction, actions, and responses of the mother and child. Consequently, children are only able to form secure attachments only when their primary caregivers, their mothers especially are responsive to their needs. (Reebye, Ross & Jamieson, N.d.)

Research also helps to explain why children who come from abusive families are unable to form secure attachments. Their mothers may not be able to adequately respond to their needs for they may be weighed down by the abuse. The lack of responsive care is what leads to insecure attachments. (Dutton, 2000).

Culture is also seen to play a part in the formation of unresponsive attachments. For instance, the study was carried out in the northern part of Germany. In most cases, children sleep in separate rooms from their parents from a tender age. Providing the child with their room and bed was a way of instilling independence and autonomy; character they were to carry into adulthood. This portrays Germans as highly valuing personal independence. Mothers encourage their children to be independent at a young age probably because that is the same way they were brought up. Nonetheless, the practice only culminates in insecure attachments. (Reebye, Ross & Jamieson, N.d.)

Thus, most of the research that has been carried out has its basis on Bowlby’s attachment theory. What most of the research has served to prove is the fact that attachment is a universal concept. Partly due to cultural values from different parts of the world and the child-rearing values the cultures foster, some children have developed insecure attachments. Still, the common factor in insecure attachment was the unavailability of consistent and responsive care from their parents. (Reebye, Ross & Jamieson, N.d.)

The type of attachment formed by a child has important ramifications on their adult lives. From the research conducted by Bolby, it was evident that children who were deprived of maternal care and love often formed insecure attachments. A closer look at the children also believed that the children also engaged in criminal activities. This was very different from the children who were considered to have formed secure attachments. ((Reebye, Ross & Jamieson, N.d.)

It is clear from the proceeding review that children develop an attachment with their primary caregivers within their first two years of life. How the caregivers respond to the needs of the children is what determines whether the child develops secure or insecure attachments. Bolby’s attachment theory argues that children form secure attachment only when their primary caregivers are attentive and responsive to their needs. Consequently, in instances where the child’s needs are not adequately responded to, the child develops insecure attachments. Various studies and research that have been carried out have either corroborated or refuted the theory. Dutton’s study of parental abuse served to support the argument. In families where the is abuse especially of the mother, the caregiver, the child is highly likely to develop insecure attachment. This is because the mother may be weighed down by her problems and therefore not adequately respond to the needs of her child. On the other hand, Kaplan refuted the theory. To him, it is not the nature of the relationship between the child and the mother that influences the development of attachment rather the temperament of the child. Still, cross-cultural studies that have been carried out have helped to build on the theory. The study into the northern German culture that encourages the independence of children from a very early age helps to show that cultural values encourage the development of certain traits as opposed to others. The northern German culture encouraged the development of insecure attachment.

Consideration of future studies needs to provide an account for ways in which the parent-child relationship may be enhanced. For instance, attachment problems should be eliminated at their main source. Moreover, parents and children should be taught how to develop positive interactions. This is best carried out through therapy where they would be equipped with better communication and problems solving skills.


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