Secure attachment is important for a child’s emotional, social, and cognitive development. It helps children feel safe, explore their environment, and build healthy relationships. 

According to a 2023 meta-analysis that analyzed 285 studies involving 20,000 infant-parent pairs, 51% of children had a secure attachment style. This means that the rest of the sample did not have a secure attachment [*]. In this article, you will learn about secure attachment, its benefits, and how you can nurture it with your child.

Understanding Secure Attachment

Secure attachment describes a healthy and positive bond between an infant and their primary caregiver. It is a key concept within attachment theory, which British Psychologist John Bowlby first developed. The theory suggests that the bond formed between an infant and their caregiver can have a long-term effect throughout the infant’s adult life.

Researchers like Mary Ainsworth have further developed attachment theory. Her “Strange Situation” study assessed the attachment relationship between infants and their primary caregivers. It involved separation and reunion in a controlled environment. Through the study, she also introduced the concept of different attachment styles. Infants with secure attachment styles show distress when the caregiver leaves and are quickly comforted when the caregiver returns. They are comfortable actively seeking safety from their caregiver when needed.

Benefits of Secure Attachment in Early Childhood

Securely attached children experience emotional, social, and cognitive benefits that can prepare them for adulthood. Below are reason listed to promote a secure attachment with your child.

Emotional Development

Securely attached children learn that their caregivers can provide consistent comfort and support when they are distressed. They learn to develop healthy coping skills and when to seek support. A 2010 study looked at how secure attachment affects young children’s ability to manage their emotions. The researchers found out that securely attached children were more willing to talk about their negative feelings, especially when their mothers validated them [*].

Social Skills and Relationships

Securely attached children have a foundation of trust with their caregivers. They also learn to manage their emotions, understand others’ emotions and have improved communication skills. All of these can help them in their social skills and relationships. 

Moreover, infants who grow up with a secure attachment also develop loyalty, which is an important trait for building healthy and meaningful relationships. You can help them develop this through playful loyalty activities for kids.

Cognitive and Academic Outcomes

Parents of securely attached children are more supportive, which motivates children to do well in school. Moreover, children with this kind of attachment have higher self-esteem and believe in their abilities.

A 2013 study investigated how early attachment between mothers and children affects their academic performance and IQ in middle childhood, between the ages of 6 and 12 [*]. It was observed that children who displayed secure attachment at 24 or 36 months achieved higher levels of school performance and IQ during middle childhood. This relationship is mediated by factors such as encouragement of academics, parental quality of assistance, social relationships of the child, and children’s regulatory characteristics [*].

Factors that Promote Secure Attachment

By understanding the factors that promote secure attachment, you can create an environment that supports your child’s emotional, social, and cognitive development.

Responsive Parenting

Your ability to notice and respond to your child’s signals and needs can pave the way for a secure attachment. When you consistently respond to your child, they learn to trust that you will be there for them. Examples of responsive parenting include responding to a baby’s hunger cues, picking up and soothing a crying baby, engaging in play, and paying attention to their verbal and non-verbal signals. 

Creating a Safe and Nurturing Environment

An environment where your child feels valued, secure, and supported is key to creating a secure attachment. This might mean that you show empathy and understanding when your child feels upset. Or you allow your child to explore and try new things while providing guidance and support. It also supports their social-emotional development through healthy mental health habits, as this can help them regulate their emotions, build healthy relationships, and overcome setbacks!

Challenges to Developing Secure Attachment

Developing a secure attachment can be challenging if there are factors that interfere in providing consistent and responsive care for your child. These include:

  • Stress: High levels of stress can affect your ability to be available to your child. Environmental stressors, such as financial difficulties can increase your stress and reduce your time and energy for your child.
  • Mental health issues: Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues can impair your emotional availability and lead to inconsistency in caregiving.
  • Lack of parenting knowledge and skills: When parents lack the understanding and ability to respond to their child’s needs, it can lead to an insecure attachment.
  • Attachment issues: If you experience an insecure attachment during childhood, you may also struggle to form a secure attachment with your child.

You can address these challenges by finding support for mental health, educating yourself on parenting, and building a support network. Check out Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny’s online parenting classes to learn more about positive discipline, early childhood milestones, and more!

Strategies for Nurturing Secure Attachment

You can form a secure attachment with your child by doing the following:

  1. Respond promptly and consistently to your child’s needs for food, comfort, and affection. 
  2. Engage in physical affection such as skin-to-skin contact such as cuddling and holding your baby close.
  3. Maintain eye contact with your child during interactions.
  4. Listen and validate your child’s thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
  5. Create a safe and nurturing environment where the child feels protected and supported.
  6. Maintain emotional availability with your child. 
  7. Model emotional regulation skills. 

Remember that you are your child’s safe haven

Your reliable and consistent care gives your child a sense of stability and safety. Being present and engaged in your child’s life creates a foundation of trust and security. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs, but your dedication and efforts are making a positive impact on your child’s life. Continue learning with online parenting classes to stay one step ahead and avoid stress in your parenting journey.

About The Author

Michael-Vallejo-blogger

Michael Vallejo is a Child & Family Therapist with a private practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Through Mental Health Center Kids he hopes to support other therapists, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals with visually appealing online resources to support the well-being of kids in their care.