Secure attachment

Secure attachment to a caregiver in the first years of life is a significant factor in a child’s cognitive, social and emotional wellbeing and stability. The foundational work on attachment theory by John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth and their colleagues from the 60s and 70s has been well-substantiated and extended by eminent researchers and practitioners in the 30-40 years since. Secure attachment is built from the numerous everyday interactions between an infant and parent.

Research links security of attachment with optimal brain development in young children. Children automatically use continual cycles of reaching out to explore and returning to base to seek security. From birth, we see infants look around to visually explore the people and things near them. They rely on their immediate caregivers to make sense of what they are seeing. Most parents intuitively do this by talking softly, by facial expression or touch. As infants grow, these cycles of exploring and returning to the secure parent base extend. Once more mobile, babies will physically move away to explore their surroundings but will still look to or return to their trusted parent or caregiver for encouragement or interpretation of what they have discovered or what has happened.

When parents are emotionally available and can lovingly offer this reassurance when their babies seek it, these children develop secure attachment to them. Secure attachment in the first years is strongly associated with the ability to form healthy positive relationships with peers throughout childhood and with partners and other adults throughout life.

Infants acquire a sense of security through the many interactions they have with their mothers during the first year. When mothers demonstrated sensitive responsiveness to infants in the first months of life, the infants demonstrated secure attachments later and were able to use the caregiver as a secure base for exploration and as a source of comfort in time of stress.
- Ainsworth, MDS, and Bell, SM, (1974). Mother-infant interaction and the development of competence. In KJ Connolly and J Bruner (Eds) The Growth of Competence. New York. Academic Press, 97-118.


See also NCAST in Australia
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