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Attachment & Bonding: Are They The Same And Why Are They Important.

| What Is Attachment Bonding | What Is Attachment | What Is Bonding | Attachment vs. Bonding | Four Types Of Attachment Bonds |

Positive attachment bonds between parents and their children are crucial for the forming of healthy parent-child relationships and child development​1​.

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.

mother attachment bonding with her son

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 Ainsworth​2​.

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 profound​3​.

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 child​4​.

Forming Attachment 

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 attachment​5​.

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 interchangeably​6​.

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

The secure attachment bond forms when a child’s caregiver consistently meets their needs. The parents tend to be warm, sensitive, and responsive

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 pattern​7​.

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 levels​8​.

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 them​9​.

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 children​10​.

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.

References

  1. 1.
    Ettenberger M, Bieleninik Ł, Epstein S, Elefant C. Defining Attachment and Bonding: Overlaps, Differences and Implications for Music Therapy Clinical Practice and Research in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). IJERPH. Published online February 10, 2021:1733. doi:10.3390/ijerph18041733
  2. 2.
    Bowlby J. Attachment and loss: Retrospect and prospect. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Published online October 1982:664-678. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.1982.tb01456.x
  3. 3.
    Cassidy J, Jones JD, Shaver PR. Contributions of attachment theory and research: A framework for future research, translation, and policy. Dev Psychopathol. Published online November 2013:1415-1434. doi:10.1017/s0954579413000692
  4. 4.
    Klaus MH, Jerauld R, Kreger NC, McAlpine W, Steffa M, Kennell JH. Maternal Attachment. N Engl J Med. Published online March 2, 1972:460-463. doi:10.1056/nejm197203022860904
  5. 5.
    Perry BD. Bonding and Attachment in Maltreated Children. The Child Trauma Center; 2001:1-17.
  6. 6.
    Bicking Kinsey C, Hupcey JE. State of the science of maternal–infant bonding: A principle-based concept analysis. Midwifery. Published online December 2013:1314-1320. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2012.12.019
  7. 7.
    Etzion-Carasso A, Oppenheim D. Open mother–pre-schooler communication: Relations with early secure attachment. Attachment & Human Development. Published online December 2000:347-370. doi:10.1080/14616730010007914
  8. 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
  9. 9.
    Rholes WS, Simpson JA, Friedman M. Avoidant Attachment and the Experience of Parenting. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. Published online March 2006:275-285. doi:10.1177/0146167205280910
  10. 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

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is a bestselling author. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more

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