Attachment theory suggests that the quality of early attachment relationships with a primary caregiver significantly impacts a child’s emotional and social development. According to the National Library of Medicine, “Our instinct for attachment…is a basic adaptation for survival in infancy.” When children are under any type of stress, such as being scared, feeling sick, etc., their attachment system goes off like an alarm. This alarm system is when infants engage in crying or other behaviors to reconnect with their primary caregiver. Children seeking their caregivers’ attention exhibit behaviors that tend to match their developmental age as they get older. For instance, babies cry, toddlers cry and have temper tantrums, and older children can also be verbal about their distress.
How parents respond to babies and toddlers influences the formation of attachment styles. A parent who is aware of a baby’s need for a secure attachment and is responsive to what children need helps to create a secure attachment. For example, securely attached children express distress directly to their parents because they believe the caregiver will be responsive. Children seek comfort from caregivers without hesitation and are easily comforted by their parent or caregiver in moments of distress.
However, children can develop insecure attachments if a parent consistently misses a baby’s or toddler’s reaches or cues for security. These may include ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized attachment styles.