What Is Attachment Theory?

Being a parent isn’t easy. You’re expected to excel in a career and juggle the stressors of daily life, all while caring for a child that has little or no ability to care for themselves. It’s impossible to do it all. The laundry doesn’t get done, or you eat take out for dinner a few too many nights in a row, all because you want to spend a few extra hours with your little one. The next time you’re feeling stressed out about trying to do it all, know that in a few years all of these chores won’t matter What does truly matter is how you took on the role of caregiver when your child was an infant. A child’s need to feel safe and attached to a caregiver is an incredibly important aspect of development that will affect them for their entire lives. Attachment theory studies just this and the fact that feeling safe and cared for as a child will help turn you into a caring and loving adult.

Attachment theory is a psychological model that attempts to describe the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships between humans. It focuses on how childhood bonding experiences create a blueprint for our primary adult relationships. Many psychological theories work to understand these dynamics. However, the specifics of attachment theory are what makes it a unique facet of psychology. Attachment theory explores how human beings respond when they are hurt, threatened or separated from loved ones. This model is one of the first psychological phenomena that we experience as infants as we become attached to a caregiver, this is the primary means of survival when we are very young. In fact, Attachment theory is a simple and powerful model that’s the gold standard to better understand how children perceive interpersonal relationships. It’s the dominant theory used today in the study of infant mental health and infant and toddler behavior.

The expectation is that when a child is scared, hurt, or alarmed they will seek a familiar caregiver to receive protection and emotional support. Whether children receive the support they crave determines how they navigate in interpersonal situations as they grow older. When a child is provided with proper care, it allows them to develop social and emotionally while learning how to best navigate their feelings. A reliable caregiver will act as a “safe space” from which the child can explore, knowing that if they’re scared or hurt, they always have a place to return. If a child doesn’t feel like their caregiver is providing them with a safe environment, they may become anxious when the caregiver leaves, or not be confident enough to properly explore the world around them.

So the next time your toddler is sick, and you spend the day on the couch with them instead of cleaning the house, know that you’re doing the right thing. By showing you care, you’re setting them up for a lifetime of emotional intelligence and successful interpersonal relationships.

Couples Counseling Boulder by Therapist Christy Weller, Psy.D. Also specializing in Psychotherapy and Psychological Assessment Services.