What is attachment theory and why is it important?
Attachment is a clinical term used to describe "a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Bowlby, 1997)1. In particular, attachment theory highlights the importance of a child’s emotional bond with their primary caregivers. Disruption to or loss of this bond can affect a child emotionally and psychologically into adulthood, and have an impact on their future relationships.
Only specially trained and qualified professionals should assess a child’s attachment style. However, it’s important for all adults working with children to understand what attachment is and know how to help parents and carers become attuned to their child’s needs. You might do this by working with them directly, or by signposting families to other appropriate services. In the long term, this can help improve wellbeing and provide positive outcomes for both the child and their caregivers.
Understanding attachment in the early years
Children can form attachments with more than one caregiver, but the bond with the people who have provided close care from early infancy is the most important and enduring (Bowlby, 1997)2.
It’s important that parents and carers are attuned and responsive to their baby’s needs and are able to provide appropriate care. This includes recognising if their baby is hungry, feeling unwell or in need of closeness and affection (Howe, 2011)3.
Forming an attachment is something that develops over time for a child, but parents and carers can start to form an emotional bond with their child before they are born. Sometimes a parent or carer may have difficulty forming this bond, for example if they are experiencing mental health issues or don’t have an effective support network.
On this page, you’ll find information on:
- why attachment is important
- how children develop attachment
- attachment issues, insecure and secure attachment and behaviours to look out for
- how trauma can affect attachment
- how you can support parents and carers to develop a bond with their child.
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ReferencesBowlby, John (1997) Attachment and loss. Volume 1: attachment. London: Pimlico.
Bowlby, John (1997) Attachment and loss. Volume 1: attachment. London: Pimlico.
Howe, David (2011) Attachment across the lifecourse: a brief introduction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.