Attachment is complex and comes in different "styles" that fall into two basic categories: secure and insecure. Attachment security is not guaranteed, can be compromised, and is often widely misunderstood. There is no universal parenting course on attachment, yet there is a "pass it on" effect for both security and insecurity within ourselves and those to whom we are close.
As babies, we are all born premature - we can only mature so much in utero in that we have big skulls to hold our big brains, and if grew much bigger, we'd be too large to escape our mothers' wombs. Unlike many other mammals, we are pretty useless once born. Due to our "prematurity," we can't stand, walk, run, or hide if a hungry predator should pay a visit. We absolutely must depend on the others around us for protection and security. Without this protection, we are lunch. This is why we attach to our primary caregiver, our mother.
In order for attachment safety to become internalized and secure, we must as parents meet the needs of our young children as consistently as possible.
Without consistent and repetitive reinforcement that our needs will be met, attachment security is unlikely to occur. Signs of possible insecure attachment in young children may be not seeking comfort from parents when upset/hurt, distress at separation from parents but not comforted by their return; or having no preference between parents or strangers.
Young babies cannot "learn" to self-soothe, and in order for healthy independence, we must first master total dependence. This dependence allows us to internalize that the world is safe, our needs will be met, and that other people are available to us. If we can master these basics, then we can carry this information into adulthood and repeat them with our friends, our relationships, and our families.
This is the second of a 3-part series by David Stimson, therapist and managing director/cofounder of Child & Adolescent Therapy Solutions in the United Kingdom. In Part 1, we considered the under-education of new parents about attachment. In Part 3, we'll learn about how to guard against society's barriers to secure family attachments.