Attachment styles are the way we relate to others, including our children. They are formed in childhood and can be influenced by our relationships with our parents, siblings, peers and other caregivers. The way you bond with your baby sets the stage for how she will bond with others.
If you have a limited ability to connect emotionally with others because of your past experiences or if you do not feel like anyone understands you, this will impact the way your child sees herself and feels loved and it may have repercussions on their development over time.
There are four attachment styles:
- Secure. People with secure attachments are usually confident. They can trust people and can communicate their needs; they are able to ask for help when they need it.
- Anxious. People who were raised by parents with an anxious attachment style tend to feel insecure or anxious in relationships as adults. They often have difficulties with boundaries and spend a lot of time trying to please others.
- Avoidant. Children who were raised by avoidant parents can have difficulty getting close to people and may feel uncomfortable depending on others or being dependent on them. They can sometimes appear emotionally withdrawn.
- Fearful. People with a fearful attachment style fear being rejected and abandoned. They often have low self-esteem. They crave close connections but they are also scared of them.
How attachment styles are formed
Attachment styles can be formed in children in a variety of ways but the most common way is through consistent and responsive interactions with their primary caregivers. Children develop secure attachments when their parents respond to their needs by being sensitive and responsive, providing comfort when needed and allowing them space to explore. Children with anxious or avoidant attachments tend to have experienced inconsistent or inadequate care from their caregivers during early childhood. For example, if a parent struggles with a mental illness or is overly preoccupied with work (or other issues), they may not be able to provide adequate care for the child’s needs.
Bonding is the process through which you form an emotional connection with your baby and vice versa. It is important to have strong bonds with your children because they will build self-confidence, self-esteem, and trust in others. The way they form relationships contributes to their mental health and wellbeing throughout their life.
Consistency in parenting style matters; as a parent, you want your children to be safe, happy and healthy. The best way to ensure this is by being consistent. Consistency creates a foundation for trust and safety that allows children the opportunity to explore their surroundings with confidence and security.
Why attachment styles matter
The attachment style of a parent can affect the parenting of their child. For example, an avoidant parent may not be as easily able to respond to the needs and wants of their child while they are young. This can result in a child who grows up with anxiety or insecurity. Similarly, an anxious parent could be too over-protective and interfere with their child’s autonomy as they grow older.
The attachment style of a romantic partner can also affect relationships negatively; for example, if one person is anxious about being abandoned but does not express it verbally, this might cause problems in the relationship because the other person will not know what is wrong unless they are told explicitly. Similarly, if one person is afraid that their partner does not love them anymore but does not say anything about it either and that fear goes unaddressed it is likely to cause tension between them.
Attachment styles are formed early in life and shape how we connect with others. It is important to understand your own attachment style, as well as the attachment styles of your partner and other family members, so that you can be more supportive and understanding of each other.
Joanne Docherty has been working with and for families since 2006, and is the founder of Starra Education. She also teaches at the University of Glasgow.
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