The Importance of Early Attachment


It makes sense that babies, being helpless, would naturally form special bonds with caregivers who attend to their basic needs. However, research shows that attachment in humans may not be as simple as it seems. Studies are continually exploring the importance of these attachments on human babies. While there is strong evidence to support the idea that infant and caregiver attachment is important to humans’ ability to form other relationships, further evidence offers hope for children who have missed out on an early secure attachment.

What Is Attachment?

Basically, attachments can be secure or insecure. Counselors or social workers can gauge the level of attachment that a child has with their caregiver by administering the Strange Situation test. This test is set up so that the observing counselor or social worker will interact with the child and their caregiver. A child with a secure attachment is expected to use the caregiver as a “base”. They will explore their surroundings but often “check in” with the caregiver. The caregiver is instructed beforehand to get up and leave without saying anything while the child is distracted. A securely attached child will, at some point, notice and become upset to some degree. When the caregiver returns, the child should calm down again.

Children who are securely attached to their caregivers are able to more readily form bonds with others. Conversely, insecurely attached children may not understand the importance of respecting boundaries or other concepts required for successful social interaction. Lacking in these skills can have effects on the child’s ability to learn because they have a hard time asking for help and staying on task. Researchers have observed that attachment patterns may also manifest in romantic relationships later in life.

Research has supported that a person’s attachment pattern (secure or insecure) is not likely to change without a significant negative event. Children who were participants of a Strange Situation at one-year-old were contacted again in their early adulthood. This longitudinal study used surveys to determine their current attachment patterns. They found that the participants’ attachment patterns were significantly similar from one-year-old to adulthood.

What Causes Attachment Disorders?

Many researchers believe that it is the caregivers’ on-going responses to the child that determines the child’s level of security. Caregivers who are sensitive to the needs of the child and respond appropriately are likely to be supporting more secure attachments. In contrast, children who do not trust that their needs will be met by their caregiver will likely suffer from an attachment disorder. Children who do not experience appropriate stimulation, through interaction with their caregiver, that includes touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste may suffer from an attachment disorder. Children whose caregivers did not respect their boundaries are also at risk of developing an attachment disorder.

Can Attachment Disorders be Treated?

Although the majority of children will carry their attachment pattern with them into adulthood, case studies have shown that children who miss out on secure attachments as infants will not necessarily have problems with relationships as adults. Developing attachment patterns is an “on-going process” throughout the child’s life.

Caregivers who take the time to learn about attachment, implement therapeutic parenting techniques, and commit to the relationship have a very high chance of success.  Children are very resilient. It is never too late to provide care that leads to attachments that make children feel safe and secure. Many people who work with children with insecure attachments note that when the caregiver puts forth the effort, the damage can be undone.

Attachments formed during infancy are very important. They form the basis for which people develop relationships later in life. However, children can overcome these odds when parents or other caregivers use strategies to promote secure attachment.


Feldman, R. S. (2011).  Development across the life span (6th ed.).  University of Massachusetts, Amherst: Prentice Hall.

Purvis, K. B., Cross, D. R., & Sunshine, W. L. (2007). The connected child: Bringing hope and healing to your adoptive family. New York: McGraw Hill.

Waters E, Merrick S, Treboux D, Crowell J, & Albersheim L (2000). Attachment security in infancy and early adulthood: a twenty-year longitudinal study. Child development, 71 (3), 684-9 PMID: 10953934

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