Science & Research:
Attachment Theory

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Author: Laine Lipsky, Masters in Teaching, Certified Parent Educator

Overview:

Attachment Theory

 

Building healthy relationships is a big part of our job as parents and it’s fundamental to the work I do. I use Attachment Theory (not to be confused with “Attachment Parenting”) to help ground what I teach parents, especially when they want their homes to be healthier and more positive than the ones in which they were raised.

What Is Attachment Theory?

Attachment is “the deep, abiding confidence a baby has in the availability and responsiveness of the caregiver.” – Alan Sroufe, PhD, University of Minnesota Institute for Child Development

 

Attachment Theory explains how the parent-child relationship is established, emerges, and influences the child’s short- and long-term development.

 

Note: Attachment Theory is not to be confused with “Attachment Parenting” which promotes a list of specific behaviors to create healthy attachment. There are many ways to create healthy/secure attachment with your child; not just one set of behaviors. In fact, I’ve seen people practicing Attachment Parenting who are not at all attuned to their own children.

Why Is Attachment Theory Important?

Children need to feel that they are physically and emotionally safe with their primary caregiver(s) in order to grow into well-adjusted people. Attachment Theory states that the quality of the early attachment reverberates well into later childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

 

A 35-year long study showed that children with a secure attachment history were more likely to develop:

  • A greater sense of self-agency

  • Better emotional regulation

  • Higher self-esteem

  • Better coping under stress

  • Closer friendships in middle childhood

  • Better coordination of friendships and social groups in adolescence

  • More trusting and positive romantic relationships in adulthood

  • Greater social competence

  • More leadership qualities

  • Happier and better relationships with parents and siblings

Source: Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation, Institute of Child Development | MLSRA 35-Year Study

Who Are The Leading Experts?

​Attachment theory has evolved from work by numerous researchers, primarily John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, and later Mary Main.

(Ainsworth, 1982; Ainsworth, 1985; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1969/1982; Bowlby, 1973; Bowlby, 1980; Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985)

What Research Proves Attachment Theory?

Ample research studies show that a child’s first primary attachment has short- and long-term effects on their relationships. Further, a child’s early attachment style informs the way she/he/they behave in their future relationships and can dictate their health and longevity. Having a healthy attachment style is established in early childhood and is essential to healthy adult relationships.

 

Here are a few published studies to review:

Important Attachment Theory Findings

  • The style of a child’s first attachment creates the blueprint for their future relationships.

  • The precursors of emotional disorders can be found in early attachment experiences

  • Children's attachment patterns are substantially influenced by those of their parents.

  • Poor childhood attachment relates to adult physical and psychological ill-health.