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Insecure attachment

Submitted by Rita Brhel on 15 December 2021

When maternal love is not consistently forthcoming, an infant develops an insecure attachment. In this case, the bonding with his primary caregiver is incomplete and unsatisfactory. 

For example, when the infant cries or shows distress or expresses a need, the mother does not respond or only responds after a significant delay. The mother may act in loud, abrupt, or exaggerated ways that scare the youngster and cause insecurity. The mother does not spend time holding and cuddling her infant or child. She does not regularly play with, talk to, or exchange smiles with the child. Instead, the mother may attempt to imposes her own interests on the child such as by providing toys and activities of her own choosing. 

In general, none of the intimate behaviors that occur during secure bonding happen, or these behaviors happen so infrequently that they are not noticed by the child.

As a result, the child becomes frustrated because his or her needs are not being met responsively. The child begins to expect that this will happen whenever a need arises. Thus, the child fails to develop trust in adults and in himself or herself. In short, the child becomes insecure rather than secure.

Many undesirable outcomes can occur when a child forms an insecure attachment. Youngsters who experience insecure attachments at home also form insecure attachments with their preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade teachers. 

These teachers often have difficulty building a relationship with these young students, because these children harbor negative views of adults. The children are not trusting of their teachers and may act out in class. In turn, it is difficult therefore for teachers to learn about these children's needs and to respond to them in a manner that helps them learn and adjust (Bowlby, 1988).


This is the second of a 3-part series by Peter Ernest Haiman, PhD, parenting consultant based in the U.S., retired early childhood associate professor, and Head Start program trainer. In Part 1, we learned what parenting behaviors promote secure attachment in a child. In Part 3, we will explore why attachment matters: what effects security or insecurity have on child outcome.

Find research citations here.


It's about trust