Social and Emotional Development (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Multiple Attachments

Increased use of child care programs inevitably raises questions about infant attachment. Parents are concerned that their children will not attach to them. Worse yet, they fear that their baby will develop an attachment bond with the caregiver rather than with them. However, children can and do attach to more than one person, and there can be more than one attachment at a time. Infants attach to parents as the primary teacher as well as to a surrogate, resulting in a hierarchy of attachments in which the latter attachments are not of equal value. Infants show a preference for the primary caregiver, usually the mother.

Parents should not only engage in attachment behaviors with their infants, but they should also select child care programs that employ caregivers who understand the importance of the caregiver’s role and function in attachment. High-quality child care programs help mothers maintain their primary attachments to their infants in many ways. The staff keeps parents well informed about infants’ accomplishments, but parents are allowed to “discover” and participate in infants’ developmental milestones. A teacher, for example, might tell a mother that today her son showed signs of wanting to take his first step by himself. The teacher thereby allows the mother to be the first person to experience the joy of this accomplishment. The mother might then report to the center that her son took his first step at home the night before.

The Quality of Attachment

The quality of infant–parent attachment varies according to the relationship that exists between them. A primary method of assessing the quality of parent–child attachment is the Strange Situation, an observational measure developed by Mary Ainsworth (1913–1999) to assess whether infants are securely attached to their caregivers. The testing episodes consist of observing and recording children’s reactions to several events: a novel situation, separation from their mothers, reunion with their mothers, and reactions to a stranger. Based on their reactions and behaviors in these situations, children are described as being securely or insecurely attached (see below). The importance of knowing and recognizing different classifications of attachment is that you can inform parents and help them engage in the specific behaviors that will promote the growth of secure attachments.

Individual Differences in Attachment

Secure Attachment

Secure infants use parents as a secure base from which to explore their environments and play with toys. When separated from a parent, they may or may not cry; but when the parent returns, these infants actively seek the parent and engage in positive interaction. About 65 percent of infants are securely attached. 

 Avoidant Attachment

Avoidant infants are unresponsive/avoidant to parents and are not distressed when parents leave the room. Avoidant infants generally do not establish contact with a returning parent and may even avoid the parent. About 20 percent of infants demonstrate avoidant attachment.

 Resistant Attachment

Resistant infants seek closeness to parents and may even cling to them, frequently failing to explore. When a parent leaves, these infants are distressed and on the parent's return may demonstrate clinginess, or they may show resistive behavior and anger, including hitting and pushing. These infants are not easily comforted by a parent. About 10 to 15 percent of infants demonstrate resistant attachment.

 Disorganized attachment

Disorganized infants demonstrate disorganized and disoriented behavior. Children look away from parents and approach them with little or no emotion. About 5 percent of children demonstrate disorganized attachment.

Source: Based on Mary Ainsworth, Patterns of Attachment: A psychological Study of the Strange Situation (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1978).


5. Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 1963; first pub., 1950), 249.

6. Ibid.

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