Each child is different and will have different needs. The relationship between parent and child is crucial to healthy development. Everyone has heard of “Nature versus Nurture,” but there are psychologists who prefer thinking of that idea as “Nature via Nurture.” In truth, it’s the combination of genetics and environment that can shape the person you, or your child will be. Every child will have genetics influence who they become to some degree, but environment can actually change their genetics, meaning that the environment can actually trigger certain genetic predispositions to either “activate” or “stay dormant.” When talking about attachment styles, there are three distinct types, which include “secure,” “avoidant,” and “anxious-ambivalent.”
The first attachment style is “secure,” which is the healthiest attachment style a child can have, and can lead to them developing healthy relationships with others down the line. Mary Ainsworth, a famous psychologist for identifying these styles, did an experiment with children and found that with a child who has secure attachment, when the mother is present the child feels safe to explore and come back to the mother. When the mother leaves the room, the child may cry but will resume activities, knowing the mother will eventually return. When the mother eventually returns, the child will be pleased and calmed. Mothers with children with this attachment style often are more engaged with their children, and ready to help their children quickly if needed.
The second attachment style is “avoidant.” This attachment style in a child can hinder the child’s ability to create, and form long lasting relationships. The child in this case develops this style because they do not have an attachment to their mother figure. In Mary Ainsworth’s experiment, these children, when the mother is present, show little to no interest in their mother. The child also plays with toys and objects rather than other children or people. When the mother leaves, the child barely notices and is not disturbed by them leaving. When the mother returns, the child, again, shows little to no interest in their mother. Mothers with children with this attachment style are often not engaged with their children, and show little efforts to comfort their child when crying or upset.
The final attachment style is “anxious-ambivalent,” and these children can have successful relationships in the future, though the relationship might be strained due to their insecure sense that whoever they form a relationship with will “be there” for them. In Mary Ainsworth’s experiment, children with this attachment style were already anxious, and anticipating their mother leaving when she was still in the room with them, meaning the child did not have a sense of security when the mother was present. When the mother left the room, the child got distressed quickly and the distress was intense. When the mother eventually returns, the child is still in distress, won’t play, and is harder to calm down. Mother’s with these children often respond to their child’s distress when it’s convenient for the mother. The mother is not a consistent provider or protector, and thus the child is left with this sense of unsafety and uncertainty.
Parenting highly influences the type of attachment your child will develop. Parents who are attentive and consistent often demonstrate to their baby that the world is safe, and they have a safe person to rely upon. Parents who are inconsistent, ignore, or are not available to their children during those formative years can end up having a child develop the insecure attachment styles (anxious-ambivalent or avoidant). If you would like to learn more about attachment styles, here is Mary Ainsworth’s experiment on Youtube.
For on child development, see our improving your child’s speech article