Positive attachment bonds between parents and their children are crucial for the forming of healthy parent-child relationships and child development1.
What Is Attachment Bonding?
Attachment and bonding are often used interchangeably or in conjunction to describe the close relationship between young children and their caregivers. Nevertheless, they describe different basic aspects of parent-child relationships.
What Is an Attachment Bond and Why Is It Important?
In psychology, attachment is the emotional bond formed in infants and toddlers, who seek close proximity to their caregivers for survival.
Based on their interactions with their caregivers, children develop different attachment bonds to their primary attachment figures, according to the attachment theory developed by attachment theorists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth2.
Their attachment behavior and sense of connection are shaped by their relational experiences when they are stressed, in pain, or fatigued.
Attachment bonds are important because they will have a lasting impact on the child’s development, relationships, and well-being. The effects of attachment on behavior in children can be profound3.
What Is Bonding?
In psychology, bonding can be interpreted in two ways.
Bonding at Birth
Bonding refers to the strong emotional bonding felt by birth mothers during pregnancy and shortly after birth.
American pediatricians Marshall H. Klaus and John H. Kennell believed that this maternal bond needs to develop within the “sensitive period” after birth for its proper development.
The ‘sensitive period’ is the time immediately following delivery and primarily throughout the first year of the baby after birth. In the postpartum bonding process, mothers establish strong emotional ties to their babies.
Maternal bonding is primarily determined by maternal feelings and emotional connection toward the child4.
Some psychologists also refer to bonding as the process of children forming attachments to their parents. In the same way that glue binds two things together, bonding ties a person to another emotionally.
Thus, bonding involves attachment behaviors that lead to an emotional attachment5.
The resulting bonding of attachment between children and parents is then called the attachment bond.
Attachment vs. Bonding
Bonding and attachment share some common characteristics, but they are not the same thing. The key differences between attachment and bonding are that attachment refers to the connection a child develops with their caregivers, whereas bonding refers to a caregiver’s feelings towards their child.
In attachment, the child forms an emotional tie to their parent, while in bonding, the parent forms an emotional tie to the child.
The two terms describe two facets to the same parent-infant relationship building, and both involve emotional bonding, so they are often used interchangeably6.
Four Types Of Attachment Bonds
The four common attachment styles are
- Secure attachment style
- Ambivalent-insecure attachment style
- Avoidant-insecure attachment style
- Disorganized-insecure attachment style
Secure Attachment Bond
Children with secure attachments have a sense of security. They feel safe, loved, and supported by their caregivers.
From their parents’ secure base, they can explore the world and learn about it fearlessly.
Positive child outcomes, including healthy relationships, confidence, and independence, are associated with this attachment pattern7.
Ambivalent Attachment Bond
An anxious attachment bond is an insecure attachment bond.
Children tend to form ambivalent attachment styles when their caregivers are inconsistently meeting their needs. There may be times when they are unresponsive or unavailable.
Due to this, children have anxiety and uncertainty about relying on their caregivers during times of stress. There is a fear that their caregiver may abandon them.
Anxious children have lower self-esteem and a negative self-image.
It is difficult for these children to separate from their caregivers to explore their environment on their own. Compared to others, they are less independent and have higher anxiety levels8.
Avoidant Attachment Bond
Children develop avoidant attachment bonds when their caregivers are inconsistent, insensitive, or rejective. They are fearful of being rejected or abandoned.
Avoidant children tend to have a negative view of the world. They have difficulty trusting others and are unwilling to express their feelings.
These insecure children have difficulties forming close, meaningful relationships and prefer being alone or independent over being in a relationship. Furthermore, they may suppress or avoid their own emotions or have difficulty expressing them9.
Disorganized Attachment Bond
Disorganized attachment bonds form when the primary caregivers are also sources of fear for the child. It is possible for these caregivers to be abusive, neglectful, or otherwise instill fear in the child.
Children with disorganized bonds may appear dazed or confused, avoid or seek out the caregiver, or engage in self-soothing behaviors such as thumb-sucking or rocking.
This form of insecure attachment in infants tends to have negative impacts on the social and emotional development of children10.
Final Thoughts On Attachment Bonding
It is important to note that attachment bondings are not fixed.
With the right support and interventions, attachment issues and styles can change over time.
Despite experiencing previous insecure attachments with caregivers, people can still improve their attachment quality and develop earned secure attachments in adulthood.
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- 8.Kerns KA, Brumariu LE. Is Insecure Parent-Child Attachment a Risk Factor for the Development of Anxiety in Childhood or Adolescence? Child Dev Perspect. Published online November 8, 2013:12-17. doi:10.1111/cdep.12054
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- 10.Granqvist P, Sroufe LA, Dozier M, et al. Disorganized attachment in infancy: a review of the phenomenon and its implications for clinicians and policy-makers. Attachment & Human Development. Published online July 26, 2017:534-558. doi:10.1080/14616734.2017.1354040