Observation Guidelines: Assessing Young Children's Attachment Security
- Active, intentional exploration of the environment in the presence of the caregiver
- Protest at being separated from a caregiver; ability to be soothed when the caregiver returns
- Initial wariness of strangers, with subsequent acceptance if reassured by the caregiver
Luis cries when his father drops him off at the child care center in the morning. After a few minutes, he settles down and crawls to a familiar and affectionate caregiver who is beginning to become another attachment figure for him.
It is natural for young children to resist separation from family members. Help them establish a routine of saying good-bye in the morning, and give them extra attention during this transition. Reassure parents and other family members by describing children’s individual ways of settling down and the activities children typically turn to when they relax.
- Superficial exploration of the environment
- Indifference to a caregiver’s departure; failure to seek comfort upon the caregiver’s return
- Apparent discomfort around strangers, but without an active resistance to their overtures
Jennifer walks around her new child care center with a frown on her face. She parts easily with her mother, and after a short time she seems to adjust to her new environment. Jennifer glances up when her mother comes at the end of the day, but she doesn’t seem overjoyed about her mother’s return.
Independence from parents is often a sign of children’s familiarity with child care or preschool settings. For children who seem at ease with separation, support them throughout the day. When children appear indifferent to family members, form your own affectionate relationships with these children, knowing that such relationships could become children’s first secure ones.
- Exceptional clinginess and anxiety with caregiver
- Agitation and distress at the caregiver’s departure; continued crying or fussing after the caregiver returns
- Apparent fear of strangers; tendency to stay close to caregiver in new situation
Irene tightly clutches her mother as the two enter the preschool building, and she stays close by as her mother signs her in for the morning. She is quite upset when her mother leaves yet finds little comfort in the mother’s return a few hours later.
If children appear anxious when they enter a new child care or preschool setting, give them extra time to part from their parents. Sometimes a “comfort” object from home (a teddy bear or blanket) can help. Be patient and reassuring as you interact with these children, knowing that they may eventually form a secure attachment to you.
Disorganized and Disoriented Attachment or Other Serious Attachment Problem
- Unpredictable emotional responses
- Cautious approaches to familiar caregiver
- By end of first year, failure to contact caregiver when distressed
- Reckless exploration and no use of caregiver as secure base
- Reversed roles, with excessive concern about caregiver
- No signs of attachment to family members or other familiar caregivers, or fear of them
- Indiscriminately friendly behavior with no preferential actions toward family members
- Signs of overwhelming grief after the death of a primary caregiver
Myles seems lost at school. He arrives hungry, walks aimlessly for some time, and eventually sits to play with blocks. He is aggressive with his peers, and his teacher sees bruises on his arms.
Provide special attention and monitoring to children who seem disorganized and disoriented in their attachment. Be on the lookout for signs of abuse, and be ready to seek advice from authorities. Remember that these children are not doomed to serious lifelong problems, but you must work hard to establish positive, trusting relationships with them.
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