Attachment is defined by Bowlby (1969) in Huang (2020) as “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings and can also be referred to as affectionate or emotional bonds. Attachment styles of a person are formed in early childhood and this can affect how we form all other relationships in the future as adults as being secure or insecure.

The theories of attachment of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth document 4 categories of attachment. This was further researched by Main and Solomon (1986) and how these attachment styles are also seen in adults. They are;

  • Secure – Autonomous
  • Anxious Resistant – Preoccupied/Ambivalent (Anxious)
  • Avoidant – Dismissing/Dismissive
  • Disorganised -Unresolved/Disorganised/Fearful (Anxious)

Secure Attachment

Children seek comfort from parents and separate from parents and then able to greet them upon their return with positive emotions. They still may have signs of upset at speration but can usually be comforted by a caregiver. For a secure attachment, a caregiver needs to meet the needs of the child.

Children with a secure attachment are able to;

  • Able to develop more empathy and the ability to relate to others and be kind.
  • be comfortable with closeness and able to love others
  • more likely to have long-term relationships
  • building lasting friendships
  • know how to trust
  • autonomous
  • solve problems and ask for help or support
  • are resilient under pressure
  • regulate their own emotions and behaviour
  • happier and less angry towards others
  • more optimistic
  • exhibit high self-esteem
  • more mature
  • more open to and able to learn and transition more confidently

Anxious Resistant – Preoccupied

The child displays aggressive or passive-aggressive behaviour towards parents and others. Can be highly upset when a parent leaves due to being less secure and due to a parent being less available to the child’s needs. This child may worry or not feel loved. May become distraught when relationships are over and reluctant to start relationships because of worry and how they feel. They can be cold and distant towards others. In childhood, they can be clingy. In adulthood, they may need more reassurance and may end up in unhealthy relationships. They need support to feel confident.

Avoidant – Dismissive

The child may avoid parents and significant others and show no preference for others. If there are long absences from the attachment figure then they can feel rejected. This can lead to them not putting much effort into relationships and may not display emotions of upset. They can appear uncomfortable with being intimate and feel suffocated and avoid commitment in relationships. They can be independent and self-directed. They don’t feel they need others’ approval.

Disorganised – Unresolved

This child can show a mixture of avoidant and resistant styles of behaviour. they can seem apprehensive, confused or dazed. This can be due to receiving mixed signals from parents/significant other. Such as giving mixed signals of being comforted and frightened. This causes unpredictability and the child becomes confused and less trusting.

Knowing the different categories of styles of attachment can help us to understand the effects of how attachment styles of parents and significant others can influence children’s behaviour into and through adulthood to be secure or insecure in relationships.

One of the most important things we can do in our relationship is to form secure attachments with children. To do this we need to look at our own attachment styles through reflection to better understand how we can provide an environment that supports a child to have secure attachments.

Being With

To form secure attachments we need to ‘be with’ children. As we are human BEings, not human havings or human doings. This means not being really present with children and not buying children things for attachment. This can be difficult in our busy lives as adults and all the things that children may do such as after-school and weekend extracurricular activities, but it is important to have quality time with children.

Being with is being emotionally available to children in relation to their emotional needs. It is teaching emotional intelligence by being with children with all of their feelings. This includes sadness, anger, joy, excitement, fear and curiosity, pain, frustration etc. Allowing them to trust and be able to move on from these feelings. It helps them to feel less overwhelmed and more secure. Security International. Being with is letting go of our own emotions and being with children so we are less reactive and more responsive. Circle of Security International,  Circle of Security parenting, 2016, Being-With and Shark Music – Circle of Security International

Complete the reflective task below on being with to support you to reflect on what it means to you. If there are others in your team doing the course perhaps you could do this together.

Being with children is meeting their needs and acknowledging and respecting their feelings. It is not denying them such as you will be ok or don’t worry you are alright. Being with is co-regulating with children to support them to be able to regulate their own emotions and behaviour. This helps lighten the load for children when they are dealing with emotions they may find difficult, overwhelming and chaotic. Sometimes it is just being with physically in the moment to help children make sense of their experiences to become more responsive and less reactive in their behaviour.

Being with allows the relationship to have embedded values of honesty, trust, respect and commitment. The circle of security refers to this as parents needing to be stronger, kinder and wise. and for educators, it needs to be stronger, kinder and committed. The last word is changed to committed because educators have a choice to be with or not be with and they need to make a committed choice to be with children because they understand the importance of their role.

This balance between stronger and kinder is knowing that there are times when parents and educators will need to take charge in kind ways. This could be acknowledging children’s emotions at times when it is necessary for your own needs or for the child’s needs and safety. For example, it could be that a child throws a toy because they don’t want to pack up. This could be talking to the child in a kind way to say I understand you are feeling angry because you want to keep playing. Rather than packing up your toys you can leave them here and then after lunch you can come back and play with them because it is important we have something to eat so we have more energy to continue to play. Children who are not used to having values of honesty, trust, respect and commitment can take time to learn to regulate their own behaviour. This is challenging for educators. We will look at these challenges further in this professional development.